This mini-series will take a look at how I put together my brief news articles on Examiner, from a full process perspective.
Once a while ago, I was asked how exactly I was able to put news together so quickly, and so often, for Examiner. It’s no secret that on my best days, I can publish around ten news articles a day – and that’s on top of what I already do for other clients. The key is, I have a system.
The system I use has been build up over time – it’s been nearly two years I’ve been writing at Examiner now. Once the groundwork was laid out, however, it was easy to continue to build on it, to make small tweaks as necessary, to improve work flow. I believe this ground work can be applied to anyone, regardless of the industry they write about, but of course, the context in these posts will relate to the video game industry.
The first step in writing news articles is to find the news. This is a step that seems relatively easy, but I’ve watched writers struggle with it. This is more than just listening to the morning (or evening) news, more than picking up a newspaper. This is about finding stories as close to their source as possible and, eventually, finding the sources yourself.
Currently, I have a list of about 400 links I go through on a daily or semi-daily basis. That’s a lot of ground to cover for one person, and many writers will find that their industry or sub-topic is much more limited in how many sources they can pick up. Most of these links represent a single online game (think of it as the official website of a “company, person, or thing of interest”); some are press release sites; others are competitor’s blogs. That alone should give a hint as to what you should be looking for when building an online link library.
Find press release sites. Press releases are a great way to find out information about topics that you’re writing about. There are many large, generic sites, like PR Newswire, as well as smaller sites for specific industries (like GamesPress) which offer press releases plus assets for free, or at low cost, sometimes without even requiring website registration. Press releases aren’t bad; you just need to learn how to write about them rather than simply repeat them (a later topic). You can also eventually win press contacts who will send you releases directly.
Find important news sites. We’re still looking for objective sources here, so look for reliable news sites to bookmark – ones you know are getting their facts right. This doesn’t mean you have to read all of CNN; just bookmark the subtopic that fits your writing style. Like press release sites, there are often a few good news sites tucked away in every industry and topic.
Find reliable blogs. Yes, blogs. Besides the fact that there are many professional bloggers out there, blogs often pick up on the story you may have missed. They may have a news source, or press contact, you don’t. The best blogs also always cite their sources, and if these sources are online, you want to track them down and bookmark them, too. I highly recommend subscribing to your competition; not so that you can stalk them and simply report everything they do, but so that you can be aware of what they are reporting, what they aren’t reporting, and catch wind quickly of any big story you may have missed.
Find your points of interest. I mentioned that I have hundreds of individual game websites published. Each of these websites has a news section, or a forum, in which the game publisher or developer publishes news. Some are better about publishing news than others. Some I get press releases for, some I don’t. However, this gets as close to the source as I can get – it gives me a direct feed from my point of interest within my topic as to what’s new. If you write about business in your city, find the websites of the companies you cover and bookmark them. If you write about education, bookmark local and national education sites. Checking all of these sites, once you get down to the flow of your work, doesn’t take long: daily checks keep you constantly in the loop so that it only takes a few seconds to load a page and see if there’s something new.
Use Google (Alerts, that is). Google Alerts is a magnificent tool. What it does is simply search a keyword for you, and regularly emails you new and interesting results it finds on the web. You can set these emails to various time frames (including as it happens), and the keywords you choose are your own. These are fantastic ways to get news about the topic you write about, as well as find blogger perspectives, pictures, and more. For a brief time when I ran another blog, I had eight regular daily alerts coming to me from Google, each with two to twenty links in them. That’s a lot of legwork you don’t have to do.
Watch or read the news. Hah, you thought you were off the hook watching your daily news, but you’re not. Whatever news source you like, give it at least a quick five or ten minutes of your time each day. Scan the headlines. Sometimes, related stories pop out of the woodwork that aren’t covered in previous sources.
I put all of my links in a large bookmark category in Firefox, and sub-divide these into a few other categories that helps me keep the list clean and organized. Since I regularly check these links, I can also filter out dead websites and re-organize on the fly. Firefox allows you to pull up your bookmarks bar in a side-frame (Ctrl+B), which I use to quickly cycle through my links each day and check for news. These links are organized in a specific order so that I prioritize certain news sources; I go from press releases, to sources, to news sites and blogs. This has proven to be the most efficient, as press releases appear on sources, news sites and blogs; by the time I’ve gone through my sources, checking news sites and blogs is a snap because I’ve already seen most of what they have to report. These are also prioritized so that I get the most important “big” news stories first; stories with smaller impact will come later in the day when traffic dies off.
Next up, I’ll look at determining what’s really news(worthy).