From print article to online news item

10-Jun-2011

We publish most of our content to MEC on a monthly basis with the major exception of the news items, which are published every Tuesday. The news items are based on articles from the Guardian Weekly.

Tuesday evenings are filled with expectation because that’s when the new Guardian Weekly becomes available through our online subscription. It’s a great end-of-the-day job to ‘read the paper’. Of course, I’m really just scanning it for suitable articles for our news items but I can’t say that I don’t get distracted once in a while if something catches my eye … .

Now, just because I might find an article interesting, this obviously doesn’t mean that all our students and teachers will find it interesting too so we try to select articles with a broad appeal, although we have occasionally used articles on niche topics, such as the caterpillar fungus industry in Tibet. Because students can access our sites without supervision, it is important to choose topics that their teachers and parents are happy for the students to read about. I also need to keep in mind that MEC is used by institutions worldwide and that in some regions there might be strong feelings about certain topics. One good test for an article’s suitability is coming up with Food for thought questions to go with it. If we don’t feel that the issues brought up by the news item could be discussed in most classrooms, we won’t publish it.

As the news is always changing, we need to make sure that we select a story that won’t have any dramatic developments in the near future, therefore becoming ‘old news’ before it is published. This makes it quite difficult to cover international conflicts, for example.

Once an article is selected and we have requested a licence for it from the Guardian, the article is sent to an editor, who will edit the article to the three levels – Easy, Average and Difficult.

The word count is 150-200 words for the Easy level, 250-300 for the Average level and 350-400 for the Difficult level. These versions should maintain the sense of the original article. I sometimes edit the article to our three levels myself. When first looking at an article it always seems impossible to take any details away but it usually emerges very soon that some of the paragraphs are just further detail or background information. The most difficult thing I find is breaking down the language for the Easy level. We try to avoid using long sentences and difficult vocabulary as well as passives and other higher-level structures. In the beginning, I regularly overlooked passives in the Easy version as they’re so common in journalistic writing and you’re used to reading passive sentences in newspaper articles.

Once I receive the news items from the editor, I content edit them (or, if I have edited the original article, Jeremy will content edit the news items). In the content edit, we check that the levelling is right, that the sense of the original article has been preserved and that all three levels contain similar information. We also make sure every level has its own title, which is appropriate for the respective level but also contains all the necessary information. We try to avoid using difficult vocabulary for the Easy and Average level but, where it can’t be avoided, we include definitions for these words. We also check that there is a balance of opinions and check that the Food for thought questions are appropriate and seem to be useful for triggering interesting discussions.

Once I’ve finished the content edit, I send the news item out to our Americanizer and pass the British version over to our Production team. I also assign metadata – topics linked to the news item that will help you find it in the guided search – and select an image. Unfortunately, there are always stories which make it extremely difficult to find images for. One of the first news items I worked on was about indigenous Bolivian hip hop and I remember searching our photo libraries for hours. In the end, we chose an image of La Paz.

Once the Production team has uploaded the news item to our preview site, it is proofed and, after any corrections have been made, the news item is approved and ready to go live. My last job is to check that they appear on the live sites and send my news item update message to Joanna, who publishes it on the blog.

I really enjoy working on the news items and learn a lot of interesting facts about a variety of topics, from the grass used on the football World Cup pitches in South Africa to the newest technology in vending machines, which has helped me out in pub quizzes in the past!

Food for thought

How do you use the news items in your class?

Which news topics do you discuss with your students?

Kerstin

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