Communicate clear objectives when assigning stories to staff editors
You might think that providing clear objectives to writers would be a no-brainer for most assigning editors. But in today’s environment of work overload, nothing can be assumed. During a recent project focusing on e-news improvement, I found evidence that assignments were being made in haste. Adequate direction on story angles and contacts were lacking. If you’re guilty of this shortfall, you are placing inexperienced junior editors in an obvious quandary. No matter how valiant an effort is made to gather information, the effort is likely to fall short. What’s more, the assignee usually ends up being criticized unjustly for failing to deliver the goods.
So it became necessary for me to insist that a more adequate story assignment approach be taken. The way things work now, three parties — editor-in-chief, managing editor and editorial consultant (me) serve as coaches for subordinate staff. Here’s how the revised assignment system works:
Editor-in-chief passes along press releases and such for assistant editors to write up. instructions include placement recommendations regarding channels, resources, research, etc. Additionally, staff editors is advised which releases are to pursued for enterprise reporting along with suggestions for potential sources. Prior to writing the article, assignee further discusses article with managing editor to identify specific subject matter to report, nail down sources and draft specific questions. Assignee completes first draft and sends file to consultant for analysis and tutoring. Assignee makes revisions as necessary and sends the file to managing editor. Editor-in-chief reviews final article, including headline and presentation elements.
This all seems routine . . . right? Maybe, but my ongoing e-news reviews suggest it’s not happening. As one publisher recently explained: “With the load of content we are required to generate every day, there no longer is time to assign or deliver articles that are up to our standards.”