Editorial Strategy: Flexibility vs. Planning

Editorial decision-makers are continually faced with the issue of how strictly to stick to an editorial plan and how often to veer from the plan to incorporate relevant content that connects with events in the world. With print publications, editorial planning ensures that the organization holds its voice in a consistent way. However, with social media and the need to be connecting daily with constituents via Facebook and Twitter, an artful combination of flexibility and planning is essential.

The planned aspect of content is a way to cover a variety of topics that all relate to the core brand, without neglecting some important aspect of the organization. The flexible side of content management means that there needs to be space within the plan to respond to occurrences in the greater community that impact constituents. An organization that doesn’t have any flexibility in content can be seen as irrelevant. At the same time, an organization without any content planning discipline can experience voice creep and lack of clarity on key messages.

For instance, when a news event occurs that impacts an audience segment, people expect an organization to comment on the event. If everyone is “talking” about an event in social media, and it relates to your constituency, but you aren’t talking about it, then you are not being relevant to the conversation. At the some time, some regular portion of organizational content online should not just follow news but to create news and content that people will start talking about. Planned editorial content spread across time is the way that your organization can shape and drive the conversation, putting forth content consistent with the values and goals of the organization.

The art of editorial content management is in the careful balance of flexibility and planning. One without the other is either irrelevant or undisciplined. Wise editors balance flexibility and planning, and are continually evaluating past messages for what they contribute to the overall organizational content strategy.

Social Media as a News Source

Several recent breaking news stories have convinced me that there is an important role for social media in keeping us informed. In March, when the papal conclave was in session, I had some news browsers open but was first informed about the white smoke and the selection of a new pope through several people I follow on twitter. And again on April 15, when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, my first alerts were from some twitter mentions that sent me looking for more news.

So social media definitely is a quick alert medium, as crowd situations contain hundreds of “reporters” who are present and sharing information. The benefit of twitter and instantly shared pictures is that there are more eye-witnesses for any event.

However, there is a downside to social media as a news source. There is no independent verification of facts, and no editor reviewing content, quality of information, privacy concerns or policies regarding images. So some of the tweets during the Boston Marathon situation started talking about an arrest of a suspect, when no such arrest had occurred.

The best use of social media in the news cycle is as an alert – that perhaps an event of note is occurring – which can prompt a further investigation. For those of us who are consumers of information, the twitter feed alerts us to look for more information. And for news media outlets, the buzz on twitter can cause journalists to dig deeper and invest resources in an investigation.

So social media is definitely a news source, but not the only news source. There is still a place for investigative journalism, factual reviews, editorial policies and also analysis of deeper issues and larger stories. One hundred and forty characters and a photo can alert and partially inform, but they are one piece of the overall role of journalism in society.

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