Writing and Editing Online
The Online Writing and Editing Guide
for Marketers, Copywriters and Editors ...
Some years before
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, I was serving my early apprenticeship
in journalism as a Junior Sub-Editor on a national weekly newspaper.
that time, we had typewriters, hot metal and ink.
the 25 or so years since, I have been fortunate to participate in the ever-changing
face of publishing from mainframe direct-entry computer systems to desktop publishing
to satellite printing to web publishing.
while it's a blessing to no longer go home with the day's headlines printed on
my forearms (from leaning on the 'stone' while trying to read the inked typeset
lines in reverse), one thing has never changed .
the craft of writing.
professional bible in those early days was The Simple Subs Book, which
was written in 1968 by Leslie Sellers, the then Production Editor of the Daily
questions for writers and editors
it, there is a series of questions that every writer and editor should ask themselves
about a piece of work:
the facts right?
there any loose ends?
it flow like honey, or does it stick in the craw?
it make any unnecessary demands on the reader?
it be simplified?
can, indeed, learn from the past as those rules still apply today. Perhaps even
more so when the short attention span of the average online reader is considered.
secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing
in an old way.'
Richard Harding Davis
in relation to online content, Mr Sellers might well have added that good copywriting
has to pass the AIDAS test.
own newspaper path included the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, the
Evening Times, the Evening News and The Mercury (Australia)
as well as projects for The People and The Independent and an award-winning
period as launch Editor of The Glaswegian, then the UK's most widely-distributed
free newspaper and the first to be published using Apple Macs and QuarkXPress.
the latter I was fortunate to pick up many national awards including ones for
Editorial Excellence as well as Best Design and the main honour of UK Newspaper
of the Year.
while successes were due to a number of factors, the approach was always to begin
with the questions:
newspaper articles begin by answering most of these questions. And they can also
be applied to larger editorial projects, design initiatives and, of course, online
copywriting and editing.
relation to applying that offline knowledge and experience into New Media, my
own first taste of using online content came about in an unusual way.
just completed a mammoth project of, then as Production Editor, introducing new
technology into Mirror Group's Daily Record and Sunday Mail, replacing traditional
publishing systems and practices with Apple Macs, desktop scanners, an electronic
picture desk and more.
back, it was probably that which opened my eyes to the power of electronic
example, while it had previously taken a large team to produce the content and
pages on the night of a General Election, in 1983 that team became just me on
an Apple Mac (oh, I loved it so) supported by a single programmer (they may speak
Klingon but I accept they're truly gifted!).
after the project was completed and just as I was drawing breath, I received a
call from a colleague, Elsa McAlonan, who at the time of writing is Editor of
Woman's Own. She had been drafted in to a hush-hush Mirror Group project
and had been asked to invite me to participate.
project? David Montgomery, then Chief Executive of the Mirror Group, wanted to
launch a new middle-market newspaper, code-named Newsday, and its
first copies were to be created and then published in Scotland prior to a proposed
thing I knew I was holed up in a hotel outside Glasgow with Elsa and three executives
who had been dispatched from London - David Banks (Editorial Director and former
Editor of the Daily Mirror), Pat Pilton (Editorial Manager and, the last
I heard, Director of Editorial Operations at the Press Association) and Len Gould
(who went on to edit The People).
task was to create a design for the newspaper, edit the first drafts and create
a production platform. But there was a problem . we had no content!
the project was so secret I couldn't communicate with my colleagues at the
Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
'future of publishing'
ah ha, I had heard of CompuServe! So I opened an account, bought a modem
(yes, crawling along at 9.6 kbps) and Voila! I was able to download content
and photographs from other newspaper archives for use within the draft pages.
a distracting newspaper price war then broke out and, as a result, the only final
copies of the Newsday pages that were ever seen were outputted to a laser
printer in a purpose-built office that was only ever occupied David Banks and
. I'd seen the light and the CompuServe experience quickly led me to this thing
called the Internet and a knocking at the door of the Managing Director,
Kevin Beatty (who later headed up Associated Newspapers' new media operations
and is now their managing director).
had said 'Kevin, we really need to be part of the Internet and the Web. It's the
future of publishing', or something along these lines.
so it came to pass. This time hidden away on an executive floor, I taught myself
HTML, designed and built a Daily Record and Sunday Mail website and launched
it as the UK's first online tabloid (only the Electronic Telegraph
pipped us to the post as the first UK newspaper online).
here is how it was announced (my first taste of what we now call Internet marketing).
Britain's first national tabloid newspaper on the WWW
David Mill <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first British national tabloid newspaper to be published on the WWW is the Daily
Record and Sunday Mail.
contains News, Sport, Features and a Magazine section as well as Tourism information,
Historical information, Telephone Dating, Competitions, Cartoons, Crossword, Agony
Aunt, Picture Gallery and much more.
you might like to have a look and I'd welcome your comments.
I had a new job title - Online Editor. Some of my colleagues at the time cautioned
me. 'It's like CB Radio', they said, 'a passing fad'.
I thought differently and so did David Banks, who shared the vision and assisted
my passage to London where I became Group Online Editor of Mirror Group. From
those lofty floors in Canary Wharf the first electronic editions of Mirror
Group's titles began to appear, starting with The Sporting Life.
yes, for those who remember, I was also responsible for launching L!ve TV
online - complete with topless darts and the rabbit newsreader. Sorry about that!
that distraction aside, my own belief was that Mirror Group should not simply
repurpose print content for publication online. Rather, I believed it should also
take selected content from its various channels and create a new online brand,
which I labelled MegaNet.
would, according to my then future-thinking plan, have existing content edited
specifically for the web and custom content created for the online readership.
And it was a step ahead of the information portals that were to follow.
something called AOL came along and, for me, everything changed.
had few content sources when it launched in the UK and, after participating in
long hours of negotiation, I found myself party to an agreement which would see
my team change focus - to become key content providers to the online service.
new Internet opportunity
was no content management system in those days. This was raw cut and paste from
the desktop publishing system into the AOL templates, on-the-fly editing and through-the-night
early experience of preparing content for online readers in a certain form but
a relentless effort which also distracted from the larger opportunity - the Internet.
eventually, David Banks and I took another diversion which saw us setting up what
was then Media.Co.Uk Ltd and led to me giving up the 20 or so years in the newspaper
world to focus independently on online initiatives.
development, consultancy, online content editing and copywriting
. not many people were doing that at the time (not enough are doing it well even
now!). And, with clients like Ladbrokes, it was an early success story.
once more, a new Internet opportunity arrived at my doorstep. Scotland On Line
came calling and tempted me with a great challenge . to lead the further development
of the online Gateway to Scotland and establish it as the 'definitive Internet
source of all things Scottish'.
that time, Scotland On Line (http://www.scotlandonline.com/)
was the joint initiative of ScottishTelecom (now Thus) and D.C. Thomson (famously
publishers of The Sunday Post and The Beano).
during my two years or so as Head of Publishing and Content, page views were increased
some 700 per cent.
news, sport, football, tartans, travel . even a web cam on Loch Ness for those
global monster spotters! It was a great train set and a wonderful opportunity
to develop and present content ideally suited to the online readership.
of the email newsletters also helped us win a national new media award
ahead of entries from the BBC and The Guardian . happy days.
in 1999, having been there, done that and had the T-shirts printed, I decided
to leave Scotland On Line to its own devices and venture again into independent
then, it's been MediaCo (Internet
marketing, web publishing and content development) and, of course, this book
enough about me . let's put you and your readers into the action
purpose of Content Is King (Writing and Editing
Online) is to help you to write, edit and publish more effective
content for your online readership.
you're a marketer, editor or copywriter, I hope you will
find it helpful on an ongoing basis to weave your words in such a way as to consistently
satisfy your online audience and achieve your particular objectives.
are the most powerful drug used by mankind.'