7 Editorial Workflow Tips from Traditional Publishing

Apr 27, 2016
Content Copywriting

The newspaper industry began in earnest in the 1650s, and ever since publishers have been developing and refining editorial workflow processes. While technology has come and gone over the centuries, changing the way things are done, the goal has remained the same — to get the news out as quickly, efficiently and accurately as possible.

So what can content marketers learn about workflow from 360 years of newspaper publishing?

Follow the arrow

The first point is to have as lean and linear a process as possible without compromising quality. As much as possible, have copy follow a single direction of workflow. If you can get it down to Assign, Write, Review, Publish, you’re winning. What you want is to avoid having bottlenecks in the system or having pieces of copy doubling back in the process.

In a large, modern newspaper a chief of staff will assign or commission a story, the journalist will go away and research and write it, then they will file it — allowing the subeditors to take over. The journalist only sees the story again if the subeditors have questions or if breaking news means they have to change the copy.


Each morning the reporters (writers) communicate what they’re working on with the chief of staff. The chief of staff communicates that to the editorial management team in the morning conference — so everyone knows who’s working on what. Later that day the chief of staff will collate a more formal ‘news list’ as his writers tell him which of the stories they’re working on will be delivered that day and what their strongest angle is.

The editorial leadership team (the editor, deputy editors, chiefs of staff, etc.) will then meet for afternoon conference to discuss the stories being written and where they should run in the paper.

The take-out here is that editorial management should always know where the copy is in the editorial process at any given point, and having effective ways to communicate that is vital to success. Have clear lines of communication between writers and decision-makers.

“If you can get it down to Assign, Write, Review, Publish, you’re winning.”

Quality control

Once a journalist has filed their story, it will be picked up by the subeditors, who will read it to check for clarity, accuracy and length. They will then lay out the story on the page. Several subeditors will look at every single piece of copy.

This is an exercise in quality control. Why? Well for starters, readers put a lot of weight on spelling and grammar errors. Spell someone’s name two different ways in the same article and readers start to question the credibility of the whole article, if not the whole paper. When your profession is publishing, correct spelling and grammar is a basic requirement to entry. This should also be the case for content marketers. Hire a copyeditor, if you can, or at least make sure several sets of eyes read every piece of content.

Keep it admin-free

Having a system is one thing, keeping it user-friendly is another. Newsrooms are run on tight budgets to tight deadlines, so while you must never sacrifice quality, you also cannot afford to sacrifice efficiency. Whatever content management system you develop or computer program you use, you don’t want it to be cumbersome and administration-heavy. If it is, it will reduce the productivity of existing staff and become a training nightmare when new people join the team.

Manage your versions

Version management can quickly become a huge problem for even relatively small editorial teams. If you’re using specialist newsroom software, it will look after this for you. But if you’re stuck using Microsoft Word and folders on your company server, make sure you have a strict structure (including a clear naming convention) to ensure it’s obvious which version of a document is the one you should be working from.

Have defined roles

In a traditional newsroom every person has a specific role: the journalists write, the subeditors proofread, etc. Small content marketing teams might not have that luxury, but it is still vital to ensure each team member has a defined role on each project (even if that differs between projects). This ensures everyone knows which tasks are their responsibility.

Each project should always have an editorial lead. This is the person who acts like a chief of staff or editor, commissioning copy and making sure it’s moving through the editorial process in line with deadlines and expectations.

In defining roles, optimise for talents. In a traditional newsroom, a journalist would never be the person who lays out an article on the page. That’s because the journalist’s time and talents are better spent researching and writing more articles. Don’t make your writer the person who uploads copy to the Content Management System.

Build trust

Build a team you can trust. Use good writers who deliver excellent, clean copy, formatted correctly, by deadline. You might have to pay a bit more for them, but consider how much good writers are saving you in time spent editing, redrafting, or getting someone else to have a go at the same brief. It takes time to build a team of writers you can trust but, once you’re there, it will make life so much easier.

It’s also key to build trust with the client (or the management team higher up in your organisation) to get to a point where they trust your editorial decisions and the work you produce. So much time and money can be lost when copy is handed over to a client, to the chief executive, or up to the board. Often at that point about a dozen people get out the red pen and have their say — justifying their own existence by making unnecessary changes to perfectly good copy.

The ideal is to get to a point where the client (or the big boss) will sign off on everything after just one review — or to the point where they will just let you go ahead and publish without needing to look at the copy.

Building trust is the only way to achieve this — and the only way to build trust is to produce good, clean copy that delivers on the brief every single time. The only way to achieve that is to have an efficient editorial workflow process and a good team in place.

If you want to work with a solid editorial team that understands workflow processes, get in touch with Lush – The Content Agency.

For more workflow tips, listen to this Brand Newsroom episode: