Writing and Editing for Online Newspapers, e-Magazines and News Letters

The Modern News Consumer

  • Digital innovation has introduced a new set of influences on the public’s news habits.
  • Social media, messaging apps, texts and email provide a constant stream of news. News stories now come to us as links or shares.
  • A survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in 2016 in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, reveals that modern consumer is cautious as they moves into this more complex news environment and judicious in its evaluation of available news sources.
  • Seven-in-ten U.S. adults follow national and local news very closely. 65% follow international news with the same regularity. 81% of Americans get the news through websites, apps or social networking sites. Among those who get news both on desktop computers and mobile devices, more than half prefer mobile. The role of friends and family is amplified, but Americans still reveal strong ties to news organizations.

Headlines, Hooks and Hyperlinks

  • Online stories can be written and edited in exactly the same way as a print story, but it will neither present the information effectively nor it will take advantage of the strengths of the medium.
  • Newspaper and magazine readers might page through the publications from start to finish, this almost never happens online.
  • The Web isn’t designed to make you concentrate on one thing. It’s a non-linear medium. Its hyperlinks invite you to look at new things rather than concentrate on a news story in an orderly fashion.
  • News sites usually have a home page full of organized links, and readers choose stories that attract their interest on a category and story with strong leads and concise, informative headlines.
  • Headlines must hook and inform readers enough to make them click through to the story. Using strong verbs and highlighting the key points of story can make headlines more effective.


  • Leads for online stories are even more important than for traditional media. Leads need to be punchy and informative in online storytelling.
  • Online readers are more fickle than those in any other news medium, they sample stories and if their attention isn’t sustained right away by a story’s lead, they close it out and move on.
  • Studies have shown that online readers read deeper into stories than print readers if their interest may sustain in first few paragraphs.

Structure of Online Story

  • A common structure for online news is to write stories in “chunks” i.e. sections of a few paragraphs rather than one long narrative.
  • Assigning headers to sections also make readers more likely to continue.
  • Some online publications limit how much can appear on one page, allowing readers to click through to continue reading. Get to the point and make it easy to understand rather than flowery prose.
  • Use of hyperlinks is common practice in most online news stories. Links to related stories may be placed in a box at the end of the main story. Links may also be included between paragraphs to divide stories into sections. Ideally links should be open in new browser windows or tabs.
  • BBC prefers 33-character headline on their homepage. BBC redesign their website in 2010 with tools like short-form analysis, explainers or fact boxes to news stories. These are the ways of adding value to stories without writing a full-length analysis piece.

Writing Online Stories

  • Headline should match the story, have verbs and must not be ambiguous.
  • When writing for the web, stories needs to be told in essence in the first four paragraphs, around 70 words. Introduction should have crux of the story. Paragraphs should be clear, balanced, provide context, and are effectively self-standing.
  • Strong intros: Avoid putting attribution first, angle second.
  • Write: “The United States is repositioning its forces in the Libya region as the West weighs potential intervention against Muammar Gaddafi, the defence department says.”
  • Do not write: “The US defence department says it is repositioning its forces… Gaddafi.”

All important summary

  • Summary is a single sentence that sells the story on the website’s front page. It should expand on the headline; can reflect the story’s intro; and should summarize what the story is about. The summary should ideally have no clauses and stick to the present or future tense.
  • Headline: “Burglary at Ozzy Osbourne’s home”
  • Summary: “A large amount of jewellery is stolen from the rock star Ozzy Osbourne’s mansion while he and his wife are sleeping.”
  • Picture must match story. Captions need to be interesting, should add to the story, and must not be cut and pasted from the main copy.

How to use Quote

  • Quote boxes should place higher on the page than the actual quote appears in the text.
  • When a quote is embedded in a sentence, the comma comes after the quote marks: Paul Newman enjoyed his inclusion on President Nixon’s enemies list – “the highest single honor I have ever received”, he said.
  • Where a whole sentence is quoted, the comma should be inside quotation marks: “These attacks on the civilian population may amount to a crime against humanity,” the NATO secretary general told the BBC.


  • Subheadings (cross-heads) should be interesting/intriguing phrases that refer to something that is definitely in the copy below it.

Editing Online Stories

Online story editor must ensure that:

  1. Copy is clean, especially spellings of names and institutions
  2. Headlines work in attracting reader interest.
  3. Photo captions and credits are in place and spelled correctly
  4. All visual elements are correctly placed
  5. All elements work on multiple platforms, in multiple browsers

Posting the Story Package

  • WordPress site offers lot of customization that can be used. WordPress places the most recent posts on top on its home page. Few themes include an option for “featured” posts, allowing to highlight particular stories at the top of the home page.
  • Assign appropriate categories and tags to each post.
  • If a story package involves a sidebar story or a second story of some kind, publish the sidebar first, so that when the main story is published it will appear above the sidebar on the home page. It will also appear in that order on category pages and any archives you create.

Tools for Online Monitoring

  • LiveStats can be used to monitor which stories are popular from hour to hour. It’s an invaluable tool to understanding how to promote material and tailor it to different audiences at different times of day.
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • SEO is a way of tailoring web content to make it more visible to search engines and findable to users. It involves understanding how search engines work and what words people are likely to search for.
  • Web journalists, write headlines that make stories easier to find on search engines. Use the names of protagonists, choose straightforward terms, and place strongest key words at the start of the headline. For example: Go for ‘Whitney Houston, US singer and actress, dies aged 48’ rather than ‘Troubled US singing legend found dead in Beverly Hills hotel’.

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