Survey: E-News Needs Higher Level of Editing, Enterprise

By Howard Rauch

What were some of us thinking when we launched an e-news program? Did we realize that content delivery had to be considerably better than the traditional approach found in print news sections? Some of us got the message and are doing a terrific e-news job. Others seem content to fill space regularly with press announcement rewrites. And far too many e-news packages are burdened by endless sentences and slow-poke leads.

The above harangue is based on current results of a 50-site e-news study I undertook several months ago. As of now, I have reviewed 31 sites delivering 279 e-news articles and expect to go beyond the 50 target. Here are a few basic editing practices requiring improvement:

  • Identify an article’s importance within the first ten words. Every time we use a source-first/news second format, we diminish immediacy. Further, if e-news is supposed to launch quickly into an article, too many of us head in the wrong direction. To illustrate, I found 123 articles (44.1 percent) where the opening sentence ran 30 words or longer.
  • Observe the “universality of interest” principle. All breaking e-news story must impact the majority of our readers in some significant way. We defeat that purpose if we regularly run standard vendor announcements (like rep appointments, a new catalog or plant expansion) under the banner of hot news.
  • Seek brevity at every turn. Of the 279 articles assessed, 151 (54.1 percent) defied readability thanks to Fog Index grade levels exceeding 13.0. You may recall that the preferred FI level range is 10-12. Further, 111 articles –40.9 percent — had average sentence lengths exceeding 20 words. FI theory stipulates ASL should be 20 words.
  • Build maximum urgency into headlines. As an ongoing judge of the “best headlines” category in ASBPE’s awards competition, I apply two tests to every entry:

    (1) Does the headline reflect what was discovered as opposed to what was covered?

    (2) If the article is packed with hot numbers, does the headline exude a quantitative flavor?

    Within my current sample group, writers do okay with (1). But delivery on (2) is disappointing.

  • Enterprise is a non-event. One reason for this shortfall undoubtedly is that many publications are not staffed up to deliver exclusive material. Many editors I know would love to do better, but website cost structures are steeper than anticipated. In those cases, we do the best we can. Anyway, evidence of enterprise is lacking in 182 articles reviewed. That’s a disappointing 65.2 percent of total articles examined.

For additional details on survey findings, please consult my website: www.editsol.com. Competitive analysis has not yet become a significant factor in the e-news arena. When it does happen, many non-enterprising sites will be targets for more aggressive publishers armed with dedicated e-news staffs.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B magazines. Rauch is the 2002 recipient of ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. You can contact him directly at howard@editsol.com.

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