If you wake up every day worried about how you’re going to manage the hundreds (often thousands) of pages of content that you’re responsible for, think about going old school.

Newspapers — the kind that smudge your fingers when you read them. I’m dating myself by even bringing this up, but after many (many) years of working in the digital space, I’m still struck by the parallels that exist between the organization and planning required to produce a complex print publication and doing the same thing for a large-scale website.

If you wake up every day worried about how you’re going to manage the hundreds (often thousands) of pages of content that you’re responsible for, think about going old school.

Put your resources where your readers are.

A local paper in Ohio isn’t going to make a big commitment to covering the latest news from the United Nations. The New York Times isn’t going to cover local events in Ohio. It isn’t just about resources, it’s about readership. Every publication needs to understand what’s important to its readers and make sure that the content delivers. The same holds true for any website. It’s all too common for web teams to be asked for big commitments with small budgets. You can’t be everywhere at once, so you’re probably going to have to make choices. The needs of your readers should guide those choices.

Create “beats.”

Newspapers often work with beat reporters. A beat reporter is assigned a specific topic area to cover, such as sports, local news, culture, etc. Over time, reporters build connections and useful relationships and, just as importantly, come to understand the subject matter much more deeply than they would in just a week on a single story. Website content teams can take advantage of the same approach. If your fundraising department is not staffed to work on the website, your web team should have someone assigned to fundraising. Over time, that assignment will pay off in increased familiarity, trust, and understanding, which all equals better content on the website.  

Every page matters.

You’re not going to go to the Style section of a newspaper and find that the stories there were written by someone’s niece who has an eye for fashion. Every word that’s included in the paper is a reflection of its quality as a whole. Sometimes that means cutting down on the number of pages or stories that you can cover, and that’s ok. Quality is more important than quantity. On the website side, beware of outsourcing to graduate assistants or other helpers who aren’t trained or qualified to manage content. Even content deep within the site will have an impact on your user’s experience.

Content is temporary.

Physical newspapers are purchased, consumed, and then used without compunction to line bird cages and start fires. This content is born to be left behind when the next day’s news comes along. (Today, many of us choose to read “the paper” online, but the point remains the same.) Yesterday’s news is yesterday’s news. Content on your institution’s website may have a little bit more staying power, but you should still have a mindset that content is not permanent. You can’t post a page and just assume that you’re done. Instead, you need to have a plan in place to review, update, and/or remove every piece of content on your website.

Staff up.

You’re not going to run a successful newspaper with just an editor and a lot of well-meaning volunteers. The same is true for your website. All of the points in this post lead in one direction: you must make a case for a dedicated web team who will produce high-quality content that aligns with the content strategy for your website. When you’re planning the ideal team, think about the things that are important to visitors to your site, the ‘beats’ that your team will need to cover, and the pace of content that needs to be produced. Explain to the powers that be at your organization that the website is the most important branding and communication tool that you have, and should be supported accordingly. Will you get everything you want? Maybe not. But you have to start somewhere.

Print newspapers today are almost anachronistic. Like rotary phones or chalk boards. But content is content, regardless of how it’s delivered. And there’s a lot to be learned from those inky pages.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published February 16th 2018