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Web editor fields reader comments, migrates daily newspaper online

By Demetria Stephens
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Picture of Ginger Stringer

Ginger Stringer
Web editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Online papers are here to stay.

And that’s a good thing for Ginger Stringer, who is the Web editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Mo.

With at least 9,000 people paying for online access, Stringer said she posts articles to the paper’s website every day and archives old online content.

The paper’s coverage area is mostly the Columbia metro area, but it extends throughout Boone County and neighboring counties, according to a Columbia Daily Tribune  fact book for advertisers. Columbia’s population was 108,500, according the 2010 U.S. Census.

The paper’s website is supposed to directly represent the print paper, Stringer said in a phone interview. If the print paper had errors, Stringer notes the changes on the website. The print newspaper has about 17,500 weekday subscribers and 21,500 Sunday subscribers. The website differs with extra content.

New stories online link to old stories and other websites so readers can get background information, Stringer said. The paper’s website also has photo galleries and podcasts, which provide more information.

Stringer joined the Tribune in “a roundabout way” in November 2007. After getting her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 2006, she worked as a photographer the West Plains Daily Quill in West Plains, Mo., and then spent a year working for the Frankfort State Journal in Frankfort, Ky.

She applied for a part-time image technician job at the Columbia Daily Tribune, looking to move back to Columbia.  After the paper’s former Web editor left, she said she took over his responsibilities.

She gets 300 to 500 emails a day and about 10 phone calls from outside the paper. Some questions might be about troubleshooting, such as helping people navigate the paper’s website. Stringer also maintains accounts for the paper on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Stringer just made a Pinterest account for the paper in March.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve got a definitive guide on how to use it,” she said.

But she looked at how other newspapers used Pinterest for ideas on what would work, she said. She’s learning readers’ interests, she said. Lifestyle, food and fashion were “definitely good,” she said. She said she posted about crimes on Pinterest until viewers said, “why is this even on Pinterest?”

Maintaining social media accounts sometimes means moderating reader comments, Stringer said.

When she got her job, the paper just had changed its policy on what kinds of stories would allow for reader comment.  For example, she said stories about accidental deaths and suicides restrict comments.  Photos of accidents are not for sale on the paper’s website either.

“Occasionally, comments go too far,” she said.

 One story ran online about a parent who survived a fire out in the country, she said. Children died. Some comments suggested the children should have gotten out. She said a comment was something like, “What kind of parent is that?”

In another case, a girl, whose family was well-known in the community, accidentally died. Comments were “taking shots” at the girl’s family, Stringer said. That’s when the paper decided to change its policy.

Managing editor Jim Robertson posted a series of blog entries (parts one, two and three) on the how the paper handled comments in that case.

Stringer removes comments that violate policy and she sends a note that says something like, “get back on topic.” If one person repeatedly violates policies, she asks the writer to tone it down.

She said she works week days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “I come in the morning and get caught up reading viewer comments,” she said.

Stringer said she reports to Robertson, who runs the newsroom. She oversees two people who work on the online paper.  She shares a cubicle with other editors, so it’s easy to collaborate.

Around 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m., after fielding questions from readers, she starts producing the afternoon paper online with a content management system. She said it’s “sort of easy” to input articles, convert them into XML files and add them to a content management system that posts  articles to the paper’s website.

“So it’s kind of like moving data around instead of programming,” she said.

A big project that she’s involved in but that readers don’t see is a change in content management systems.

She said she worked with computers a lot during college. An electronic photojournalism class taught her basic HTML and Flash, she said.

Stringer’s advice for journalism students is to explore any open positions and apply for jobs a little higher up every time.

“You can’t just step in as an editor,” she said, “you gotta work your way up.”

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