https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2017/05/31/planning-the-editorial-direction-of-parliament-uk/

Planning the editorial direction of parliament.uk

Editorial written on asphalt
Image by George Kelly using Creative Commons License 2.0

I've been thinking and talking about the editorial direction of the website for a while now, so I thought it was time I shared some of my thoughts.

It's never too early to think about direction

Most of you will already know that we're busy beavering away to build a new website for Parliament everyone. What you might not know is that my team are still working hard to improve the current website.

All this work, and the relationships we're building as we do it, will help with the migration over to the new site. There's certainly no reason to wait for a new site to improve our content.

When brands start thinking about their editorial direction, they usually start with a mission statement that reflects their audience, the types of content they intend to produce, and a rationale behind why they've made these decisions.

Parliament might not be considered a 'brand' but when it comes to planning our editorial direction the process isn't much different.

Our audience

Our user research and analytics tell us that we've got three defined audiences:

  • internal - MPs, Lords, staff from both Houses, and people right here in PDS
  • members of the public who want to engage with politics in some way
  • researchers and journalists

I won't go into the details of the different personas for now. But, it's important to say that we're doing a lot of work to make sure that any decisions we make about the website, including the emerging editorial direction, reflect user needs.

Sometimes when we talk about user needs there's a tendency to assume we're only talking about public users. In the case of Parliament, we have a large and very important internal audience. Rest assured, when we talk generally about users we're also talking specifically about internal, as well as public, audiences.

Our content

We currently work using a devolved editorial model, with an agency-style central resource. This means there's a centralised Content Team (overseen by me, Editor-in-Chief) and we work alongside editors and subject matter experts that produce content in their different areas independently. Centrally, we don't approve every piece of content (that would be impossible) but we do offer support, guidance, and training.

This set up means it's really important that we have very clear and defined editorial guidelines for the editors working on parliament.uk. It's not sensible (or collaborative) to just lay down the law. We need to work with editors, their managers, subject matter experts and the wider business so everyone can understand why we're taking the approach we are, not just insist on it.

Our mission

Following the user research, I started the editorial mission statement with three aspirations:

  • to be open and transparent
  • to be collaborative, bicameral, and content-agnostic
  • to write our website copy in plain English

The rationale

By identifying three important things we can aspire to achieve, it helps shape the work we do. I also wanted to make sure this mission statement reflected the principles and aspirations of Parliament's wider Digital Strategy.

Open and transparent

This is a direct reflection of the Digital Strategy. Working in the open builds trust and that goes for both our digital work and the day-to-day business of Parliament itself. By sharing how we work, how Parliament holds government to account, how it works, what it means and how our audience can get involved we're promoting our work to engage with the public.

Collaborative, bicameral, and content-agnostic

We want to work together. We want to improve and promote the content produced by every area of Parliament. We're committed to helping editors and colleagues to make the right content choices based on data and we're not just focused on the written word. We're committed to helping everyone learn new skills to produce the right content, for the right people, at the right time and in the right way.

Plain English

We're making our content work harder by making it easier to understand. To borrow a phrase from the experts on plain English – this isn't about dumbing down, it's about opening up.

This doesn't mean we avoid technical language or traditional phrases if they’re the right thing to use. It does mean we explain ourselves clearly, use fewer words whenever we can and write for everyone. Not just those in the know or with expert knowledge. We want everyone to be able to understand what we're saying, we believe it's our democratic responsibility.

We'll use data and user research to shape the guidance we produce. That'll include working closely with editors and subject matter experts to examine the words we use and combine their expertise with user needs to find a balance that works for everyone.

A work in progress

This work is only just beginning. Once I've written the mission statement, I'll share it with you here. But, the mission statement only outlines the aspirations. The hard work comes when you're building the toolboxes and carrying out the research and engagement to develop and sustain the aspirations we've identified.

If you have any great examples of editorial direction missions statements, or if you'd like to share your success stories, challenges, or breakthroughs then please comment below or you can join the conversation on Twitter – I'm @DigiBungalow and we're #TeamPDS.

Leave a comment