In a small bunch of posts, I’d like to explore and share my thoughts about the current online editorial models and what they could bring to the European Parliament online editorial strategy. Yep, that will be a hazardous process in progress, with no real structure and random assertions. That’s what blogging is about, after all? At least in 2003. While doing this, I’ll be happy to read your comments and to engage in conversation, if the subject is of any interest to you. Editorial aspects combine science and art in all possible proportions. This cryptic statement will serve a the caveat //de rigueur// regarding anything I could express you would disagree with.
From the dogma…
Before we give a look at some current existing online editorial models or trends, let’s begin with ours, the one we apply on the Headlines of the European Parliament website. Our main goal is to provide the public with interesting news about what the European parliament and its members do. The core reasons for us to have any editorial activities (or any communication policy, for the matter) are the following principles:
- Accountability: the citizen’s right to know what’s going on in the European Parliament.
- Trust: providing objective, non-partisan information.
- Awareness: to raise knowledge of the EP and its work.
- Openness: to facilitate participation in political process.
At the roots of our editorial model, six ground rules drive all our actions:
- Accuracy and reliability
- Attractiveness, appeal interest
- Comprehensiveness (including languages)
That sounds like Sunday school, doesn’t it? Well, you need some kind of dogma if you want to achieve something. Ever heard of a slug achieving anything? Right: slugs have no dogma.
I strongly believe that constraints foster creativity. Still, I wrote in a previous post (Not the 8 o’clock news) how difficult it is to make our stories “interesting” while complying with those main principles and ground rules. As I wrote then, you, as a citizen, want, need perhaps, us to be boring. As far as we know, slugs don’t give a damn.
Two concrete editorial pillars help us to shape our model.
- Parliamentary activities first (and almost only). We must always make the link with the EP, rely on adopted positions and, as often as possible, quote office holders.
- Prefer hard news: legislation, decision, consequences.
And to inspire us in covering subjects, we, as all news content producers do, favor angles, basically:
- Connection with citizen
- Human interest (news about people)
- Interesting and unusual.
Over the years of producing news for the website, we’ve been trying to add a spicy element: political conflict. Because conflict is the fuel of all good stories. Of course, this “political conflict” angle might break the ground rule #01 (not the “You do not talk about Fight Club” one but the impartiality’s) and we never really succeeded in using it in our stories. Interestingly enough, with its new powers granted by Lisbon Treaty, the EP has already flexed his muscle against the Council – providing us with good old conflicts we can report.
… to the model
From all those core principles, ground rules and pillars, we built our editorial model as such.
Our main objectives are:
- to strengthen links between EP and European news
- to prove how much the EP is connected with citizen’s real concerns
- to propose pertinent and attractive contents
- to spread visitors in different areas of the website (using links).
Those are our main difficulties:
- By nature, EP’s agenda runs on middle or long term. Most of what EP decides will take place in months or years.
- EP work is based on dialogs, proposals, compromises… There are many “way and back” on a same subject.
We summarize all of the above in our “editorial line”.
Starting points are: decisions in Plenary, actions by MEPs or institutions, news in the media. On every subject, the EP has done, does or will do something. In-house experts always have legitimate opinions. Never forget the human touch. To be a comprehensive gateway to resources of the website. All of this in all EU official languages.
This is the line that applies to the Headlines sub-section of the News, in 22 languages. When designing the website, in 2004-5, two main segments of our audience were (possibly arbitrarily) identified. The general public and the experts. The Headlines are aimed at the general public, who we incarnate in a now internally famous private joke: our Latvian grandmother. She’s the one we write for.
The other editorial teams around us follow their own editorial line, based on the same principles and rules as ours, but diverging in the tonality and the linguistic coverage. The editorial products aimed at the “experts” are mostly in French and English (except for the Plenary coverage, done in 22 languages), are longer, more technical. Because of its narrower linguistic coverage, the Press team publishes more articles than we do, at least during the Plenary and Committees weeks.
As you see, our editorial model is very classical. We use a short range of editorial products (a short one, a middle one and a long one with internal sections), we illustrate with photos, slideshows and/or videos. We systematically propose links to complementary content at the end of our products: to the report, to the Committee page, to the Press release on the same subject etc.
Does this work for a European institution?
This editorial model has proven to be successful. The website has known a steady growth, both in terms of frequentation (visits) and consultation (viewed pages). Our stories are regularly “taken” as such by other online publishers, not always being credited to us. Thanks to this model, our Latvian grandmother can follow and (we hope) understand what’s going on in the EP.
Yet, this clockwork mechanism suffers of some flaws. The arbitrary distinction between “general public” and “experts” areas and contents never really convinced internally. We suspect most experts do read and enjoy our stories. We reduced the double coverage of the same subject by the two teams as much as possible, trying to bring on the headlines shorter text proposing either one aspect only, or an interview, or a lighter angle before linking to the Press release in 22 languages. Still, double coverage still occurs, mostly on “big” subjects.
Despite our writing skills and efforts, our website has not become “mainstream”. We suspect our audience is mainly composed of experts, with the occasional man of the street brought to a story not because it concerns the EP but because the topic matters to him. We are good at producing clear and interesting content, amongst the best of our peer group, but we wonder if we are not producing too much. One of our daydream is to write less in order to produce different editorial features. And, of course, our latest efforts on different social networks, if they definitely allowed us to reach a broader audience, pile up to the things we have to do in addition to publish our daily stories. But without our daily stories, we wouldn’t have much to offer on the social media…
The next posts will be about other current online editorial models, to see if some of them could be inspiring to ours.
This post is part of a series about online editorial models.
Online editorial models #01 – Ours
Online editorial models #02 – Link journalism
Online editorial models #03 – Networked journalism
Online editorial models #04 – Media-enabling journalism aka lol-journalism
Online editorial models #05 – The Huffington Post case