No room for slow news days with a well-planned editorial calendar

by | Aug 1, 2012 | Recent Writing | 0 comments

The Inlander/August 2012

We’re in the dog days of summer, which often are accompanied by a slowdown in news. More than a few editors likely are challenged to generate substantive content. It’s time to turn to your editorial calendars.

You don’t have one? There’s no time like the present to begin drafting. In simplest terms, an editorial calendar shows the major editorial features planned for forthcoming editions. The content, typically outlined for the next 12 months, can be a useful tool for news and advertising departments. The calendars should be fluid and updated regularly.

Editorial calendars are likely a fixture in most advertising departments. They are typically generated when developing annual budgets and are used to attract advertisers. The calendars enable sales staffs to alert merchants and identify opportunities for them to pitch their products and services in conjunction with focused editorial content. It’s standard procedure to list special sections – from a graduation insert to a tab featuring women business leaders to annual progress editions.

But I’m encouraging newspapers to look at editorial calendars in a much broader way. To be most effective, editorial calendars should be routinely reviewed by newsrooms – and communicated to readers.

The current election season offers a perfect springboard to begin a newsroom conversation about editorial calendars, with a focus on both internal and external calendars. Many of the external dates are obvious: candidate filing deadlines, endorsement conventions, candidate forums, campaign finance reports, and Election Day. Internal calendars should include notations for a variety of items, such as deadlines for collecting candidates’ biographical information and photos, decision dates for determining which races will receive full profiles and which will be presented in shorter Q&A formats and a schedule of candidate coverage.

Many of the items will trigger a story. Other dates serve as reminders to review and determine whether circumstances warrant a story. For example, some candidate forums may simply be a rehash of issues already thoroughly examined.

Now take a similar approach to year-round coverage of your everyday content in all areas.

When do local government bodies begin setting budgets? What are the key dates? When should you first preview the budget, and which steps in the process – public meetings, for example – warrant coverage?

What’s your plan for previewing high school sports teams? Do certain teams/individuals get extra attention for their accomplishments? Scheduling stories and photos ensures you have ample time and space to preview teams before the seasons start.

Does your community celebrate Volunteer Week by recognizing a volunteer of the year? If not, consider sponsoring an event yourself. It’s an opportunity for ready-made editorial content and advertising revenue.

Take the pulse of the religious community and identify any special events. Are any churches celebrating anniversaries?

The work of civic clubs enriches community life and presents opportunities for a variety of feature stories. Check in with local leaders and identify initiatives that deserve communitywide attention. Then place them on your calendar.

Calendars are also useful in reminding newsrooms they need to come up with fresh angles on the obligatory stories tied to annual events, everything from commemorative days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July, to seasonal occurrences such as the first day of school, summer street festivals and the Christmas shopping season.

All these stories, of course, are on your newsroom’s radar. Yet, it’s a good bet that many newsrooms fall short in planning the coverage. Set aside time for occasional brainstorming, and you’ll have far more stories than you have resources to pursue. You’ll also generate fresh ideas to present traditional stories.

The point is to develop a calendar – a collection of items regularly included on your “internal” to-do list as well as an “external” to-do list with ideas forwarded from the broader community. Calendars must not only be updated frequently – they should be shared. That can be done most easily by highlighting major editorial features on your websites. In addition, reference the calendar when appropriate: for example, in a column by the editor or publisher. It’s an excellent way to involve your readers and give them ownership of your content.

Editorial calendars help newsrooms sift through and survive the natural feast and famine cycles of news. Calendars, when executed correctly, will make editors’ jobs easier and will ensure a steady flow of substantive content for readers.