The Newbie Editor

The Newbie Editor: Too. Much. News!

One of the first things you learn on the editing job, pretty much on the first day, is that there’s never enough time and room for everything. Or even close.

(Photo: Master1305/Shutterstock)

Before I started this job, I was legitimately afraid there wouldn’t be enough stories to cover and publish. Or enough interesting stories.

Well, it turns out that the exact opposite is true, even on “slow news days.” Even if the war hadn’t happened and I didn’t end up overwhelmed and battle-scarred, the problem with being in the news business is that deciding what goes up and what gets ignored is an exhausting, Sisyphean struggle.

I’m subscribed to several news and official government channels on Telegram for possible leads and stories. Every day when I wake up, I see hundreds of notifications.

Even if I had a staff of 1,000 or an AI program picking up and processing all the stories, there would not be enough room for them all. And even if there was enough room for them all, they would appear on the site so briefly and be buried so quickly under other stories that they may as well have not been uploaded.

So before checking sources or copyediting or making sure everything’s in order legally, editors and especially breaking news editors need to make very quick, intuitive decisions about story selection.

What are the criteria for what goes up and what doesn’t?

Good question.

I don’t think there’s any exact, scientific, “objective” answer. Certainly no neutral answer.

You want to only publish stories that your audience would find informative and relevant, that people would find interesting, and that would align with your publication’s stated or implicit values (every outlet has these).

But that, in itself, begs the question: How on earth do I know what my audience thinks is relevant or interesting?

There is, after all, no such thing, as a singular “audience” for news. Even in the print-only days, different people read different parts of the paper for different reasons. Some read the sports section, others the financial news, still others the funnies or the crossword puzzle. Even those who read the same part of the paper did it for different reasons.

I often like to imagine a world where you can see the “view count” of each part of a physical paper. What would it show, I wonder?

Take hard news, for instance. Some people want to be genuinely informed. Some people just want to be up to date for social conversation (“Hey, did you hear about what X said?”). Others may just catch a glimpse of a scandalous headline or need to dissipate boredom. These are all my target audience – how do I keep them engaged?

Editors themselves have a handicap – we’ve seen it all, or at least, we see far more news than most people. For us, lots of news and stories are “same old, same old” and boring. But that might not be true for our readers. Maybe we’re the first source where they even hear of something. It’s a daily struggle to remind myself that I am not our readers.

So here I am, three months into the job, playing an educated guessing game in story selection. Here’s hoping I start running up the score.

The Newbie Editor is a column with occasional musings on the inner workings, craziness, and problems of being an editor and the news media more generally, by me, a newly minted breaking news editor.

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