Does Outsourced E-News Give You An Advantage vs. Staff-Written Articles?

By Howard Rauch, President, Editorial Solutions, Inc.

In competitive analysis focusing on e-news delivery, what’s the likelihood that outsourced articles usually will win out when the opposition’s content is staff-written? The answer is “not always” … but often enough, especially when it comes to basic editing practice.

For the purposes of this discussion, “outsourced” e-news pertains to those sites where, say, aggragated blurbs link directly to articles published in dailies. Other times, the source material may be provided by wire services. And then (argh!!!) there are cases where articles actually are press announcements reproduced in their entirety.

Right now, in a follow-up study that will involve 50 sites when finished, I’ve evaluated 31 sites. (Note: Findings of an initial 50-site Editorial Solutions e-news study were reviewed in the November/December 2009 issue of ASBPE’S Editor’s Notes publication — 556K PDF; available to ASBPE members only.)

Prior to launching the Phase II project, I handled a few competitive analysis projects where my client’s staff-written e-news came up short vs. the opposition’s outsourced content. My current study has evaluated several sites where outsourced articles confirm five strengths I found especially troublesome in the past:

(1) Enterprise level is considerably higher. Local reporters often obtain direct quotes from well-placed end-user sources that enhance article credibility.

(2) Visitors don’t get bogged down in foggy writing. Parades of incredibly long sentences are rare. On-target Fog Index Levels are the rule rather than the exception.

(3) Average scores are 15 to 30 points higher than those achieved by staff-written e-news packages, in most cases where articles are evaluated using my eight-factor scoring system.

(4) Executed correctly, provided e-news consistently addresses content of highest impact. Packages are not weighed down with rewrites of standard PR announcements.

(5) Staff does not have to spend time gathering material. That time probably is unavailable in the first place. This has to be a key consideration for the surprising number of sites – where the magazine has a monthly frequency – that are churning out daily and sometimes twice daily e-newsletter alerts.

Of course, there are many cases where staff-written B2B news packages can meet or exceed the standard set by sites featuring outsourced content. However, when that is true, most of the time it is because one or more dedicated on-line editors are part of the e-news team. It’s also true that sometimes, even given the advantage of a dedicated on-line crew, the resulting news stream is less than the best.

Now … how about those situations where all magazines serving a given industry rely totally on outsourced e-news? If you manage one of the sites in such a group, how do you prove – in the competitive analysis arena – that your package is the best? I’ve just begun considering possible factors to use in upcoming projects. The preliminary list includes number of items run per issue, exclusives (really hard to prove, it seems), scoops, quality of sources quoted, diversified formats and geographic scope. Another conceivable strength is the inclusion of exclusive information or editorial comment in the aggragated blurbs.

Despite the apparent advantages outsourced news may provide, we need to have more e-news sections dominated by high-enterprise, self-generated articles. However, of the 31 e-news packages reviewed to date in my Phase II study, only nine are star performers (average score = 60 or higher out of a possible 100 points). Of the 358 articles posted:

  • 185 — 51.7% — did not reflect enterprise reporting.
  • 136 —37.7% — were burdened by high Fog Index (grade levels exceeding 13.0).
  • 110 — 30.7% — fielded average sentence lengths exceeding 25 words; too many parades of 30- and 40-word sentences were observed.

Look for another survey update late next month. Meantime, for ongoing commentary of various B2B editorial issues, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/editorialtype.

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