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Do you need an editorial calendar?

Everyone has gone content mad in 2018 and it’s leading to a new focus on the importance of having an editorial calendar. It’s been building for the last few years, but I’m going to go out on a limb and declare 2018 peak content. That is, until we get to 2019, and there’s a new take on content and a new round of the frenzied worship at the altar of content.

Content is King, Content is Queen

Believe it or not, it was Bill Gates who declared some 20-odd years ago that ‘content is king’.  He predicted that the internet would be all about information as TV broadcasting was all about information and entertainment. The Microsoft founder correctly predicated that lowering the barrier to entry, where anyone with a computer and an internet connection could publish, would see content flourish. Bill Gates, who has now become a philanthropist and runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife, was also rightly concerned about payment systems and believed that those who create content should be paid for their work. Hear, hear Bill. I’d add, paid at a commensurate rate with being a professional writer. Not content mill rates.

Content today is dictated by Google and the power of its search algorithms in many ways. Websites understandably are concerned to ensure their content is found in the every increasing pool of available content and competing for the eyeballs (and subscriptions) of readers in the attention economy. So content is queen, but why?

What is content?

Some may hate the term ‘content’ because it turns words and sentences that have meaning and tell a story into filler for websites. Content is now at the heart of online. I mean, think about how publish through the CMS, the content management system, and you’ll realise why the term content is everywhere.

I’m not that bothered by the use of content to describe articles as well as white papers, blogs, news stories and so on. In my last job I was even called a ‘digital content producer’, but many times recruiters on LinkedIn couldn’t distinguish between those of us who produced the content by writing it and those who produced it by coding, uploading and generally doing the production of it online.

I’m going to side-step around the arguments about what is content and declare that it includes all material published online, wether that be hard-hitting investigative journalism or marketing material published by business or articles published on blogs. I’m not equating all content to have the same value. How we compare content by way of its merits and usefulness, as well as its accuracy and authenticity, are topics for another blog.

Content Creation Workflow

Content doesn’t just arrive online. At the very least, it has to be typed into a CMS and then published online. It usually involved quite a bit more than this. Here’s my workflow for my blog posts.

  1. Save blog ideas as Draft posts in WordPress dashboard. Add in a few subheads when saving the blog idea so I’ve got something to work with when it comes to writing.
  2. Open Pages on my MacBook and start fleshing out my idea with bulletpoint and subheads.
  3. Write an intro paragraph that captures my main idea for the blog post and leads into the body of the post.
  4. Spend some time researching the idea and collecting some links in my Pages document.
  5. Start writing when I see I’ve got a lead into the discussion of my idea.
  6. Shift to image research when I hit a blog in the writing.
  7. Write some more until I’ve explored the idea, run out of the idea or need some further research.
  8. Repeat steps 4 to 7 until I’m mostly happy with what I’ve got.
  9. Leave the draft for a few days and then come back to it for reviewing, rewriting and editing.
  10. Publish then promote.

Now this is all well and good when I’ve got lots of time or I’m brimming with ideas. But what happens when I get very busy with work and life or when I’m stumped for ideas that week but I’ve got a blog post to get out?

What is an editorial calendar?

This is where an editorial calendar can come in handy. It’s a way to plan out the content for a particular series, blog, magazine or project. It can help to create structure in an otherwise structureless system where you can blog every day for a month but then risk publishing nothing for another month because you’ve exhausted your ideas and you’re too busy with other projects to come up with next ideas.

So I’m proposing to you and myself that creating your own editorial calendar is a useful way to stay on track with regular publishing and organise your ideas. It can be a way to link them into broad themes or events that might give them a timely hook or a link for online promotion.

I’ve worked in publishing for near on 20 years. One thing I know is that you live and die by the editorial calendar. It’s impossible to run an organised publishing outlet without one. There may be a few fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types who want to keep everyone guessing or just like to leave things to the last minute, and eschew the use of an editorial calendar. This leads to huge problems for all concerned and even online, where the deadlines aren’t as fixed as they are for printed magazines, you still need certainty around what and when you’re publishing.

What tools can help develop an editorial calendar?

So I guess in it’s simplest form an editorial calendar is a guide to what and when you’re publishing content. It may be just a document with a list of articles and the planned date for them to be published, but this form is only going to have limited usefulness. Editorial calendars can be a complicated and details as you like. Here are some examples of tools to create an editorial calendar.

  • Use Google Docs and/or calendar with entries for planning stories, research, writing, reviewing, image search, publishing and promotion in different coloured entries.
  • Trello is very popular in some ways. I used in my last journalism job for all editorial work and special project such as the launch of a national broadband monitoring program that I managed.
  • CoSchedule has some free calendars if you sign up with your email.
  • Curata has a bunch of templates and examples that might give you some help.
  • Kapost is probably an option if you’re running a professional outfit with a budge and a big editorial calendar and content list to manager.
  • WordPress Plugins can help if you’re wanting to keep everything under the one roof in your blog platform.
  • MeetEdgar might be an option it it’s more social posts you want to organise and schedule.

If you do a Google search it’ll come back with a heap of them as many marketing websites use them as as email downloads which are lead generators in marketing land.

How to develop an Editorial Calendar

Depending on what you’re using for an editorial calendar, you may try some or all of these steps. If you’ve read this far I’m going to assume you are using, or plan to, develop an editorial calendar for managing your publishing schedule. It might just be your blog or for a regular publication.

  1. Create a content strategy for your blog or website that targets your readers and their interests, problems, questions and so on.
  2. Brainstorm content ideas around your main content focus from your content strategy.
  3. Finalise a list for 6 to 12 months in advance. You want some firm content ideas but leave yourself some flexibility for new ideas that come to you as the year goes on.
  4. Record the content ideas into the document according to your publishing schedule, which may range from one post per day to one post per months.
  5. Break down each piece of content into Research, Draft, Write, Image, Revise, Post. See Content Creation Workflow about for a guide on how to organise content writing.
  6. Check in with your detailed content calendar each day so you know the daily tasks  for content being post that week. It also lets you keep an eye on upcoming content so you can start some preparation such as interviews and research.

Have plan, will publish: Use your editorial calendar

Now stick to it. You’ve done all the work to create your content plan so you just need to stick to it and you’re content publishing should be regular and focussed. Hopefully this will take some of the stress out of a regular publishing plan.

 

 

Rosalyn Page

Freelance journalist and editor. Rosalyn is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor with a niche in digital lifestyle, tech and travel who has worked in the media for nearly 20 years across newspapers, magazine and online.

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