Amherst.edu/news is the premier source of news about Amherst College, serving as a hub for articles, photography and videography about the campus, its people and its programs. It is produced by the editorial team in the Office of Communications. Any given piece of content may be published on several platforms:
- The College’s homepage (amherst.edu)
- The email newsletter (e-News, sent once every two weeks to alumni, faculty and staff)
- The College’s social media channels
- The quarterly Amherst magazine
Social media and the magazine maintain their own editorial guidelines.
The value of a news site is dependent upon trust—specifically, the reader’s ability to trust that the reporting is complete and accurate, and that the writing is graceful and clear. We value the production of articles that are not only honest and informative but also a pleasure to read, and we value storytelling that makes creative use of the media, tools, talent and platforms at our disposal.
Our objective is to use editorial storytelling to convey how the College executes its mission and Strategic Plan. Within that objective, our stories aim to demonstrate the value of an Amherst liberal arts education (including the importance of critical thinking and the work of professors who are among the foremost authorities in their fields) and to spotlight a financial aid program that is among the most substantial in the nation and a student body that is among the most diverse.
There are countless stories to tell about Amherst College. Our editorial team has the resources to pursue only a relatively small number of them at any point in time. In weekly editorial meetings, we discuss, debate and make often-difficult judgments about which people, projects and events to cover and how to cover them.
We do this, first, by gathering as varied a collection of story ideas and relevant information as possible from across the campus. Next, we put ourselves in the mind of the reader, remembering that no one is required to read what we produce. Busy readers will quickly move along if our content fails to grab their attention and maintain their interest.
In putting the reader first, we look for stories with broad impact and/or relevance; that appeal to our audience of prospective students, current students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and others who are interested in Amherst; that enrich our editorial mix; that substantively deepen readers’ understanding of the College or the world; and that highlight one or more of the College's strategic priorities.
We cover stories, not topics. Stories have a recognizable beginning, middle and end; they pull the reader along; they often produce an emotional response; and they include narrative tension and resolution.
The Editorial Director makes the final decision on which stories we cover and how we cover them.
The Editorial Meeting
The purpose of the weekly Editorial Meeting, run by the Editorial Director, is to create and clarify the best possible story assignments—assignments that become stories that readers will choose to read. We do this by researching and crafting story ideas and pitching them to our colleagues; the Editorial Director has the final decision. We discuss fresh angles, newsworthiness, relevance to strategic priorities and storytelling options.
Many members of the Communications staff actively participate in the Editorial Meeting: the Assistant Editor, Assistant Photographer, Associate Director of Special Projects, Chief Communications Officer, Director of Digital Communications, Director of Media Communications, Director of Social and New Media, Senior Editor, Senior Photographer and Senior Videographer.
Reporting and Writing
All writing—whether a short headline or a long feature—is expected to be tightly focused and to demonstrate style and substance. Writers are expected to meet the following standards:
Interviewing: In-person interviews are ideal. Telephone interviews may be appropriate. In both cases, accurate note-taking and/or recording is paramount. Interviews by email can, in some cases, work for shorter articles (and for follow-up questions), as long as the writer is able to convey the human or personal qualities that are more easily derived from a verbal exchange.
Sources: In general, a story should have at least three people as sources. For example, a story on a professor’s research will rely heavily on an interview with the professor, but will be enriched by interviewing other sources too: the editor of a journal in which their research was published, a student who works as their research assistant, the leader of a scholarly organization who can comment on the importance of their work. Most of the time, these sources will not be quoted equally, and some might not be quoted at all.
Quotations: Quotations must be accurate accounts of what a person actually said. Anything that is not a person’s own words should be offered outside of quotation marks. It is acceptable to shorten quotes, editing out extraneous words, as long as the original meaning and context are preserved. It is also acceptable to send quotes to sources as a means of fact-checking, or to read quotes back to a source over the phone, but changes should be limited to minor edits required for factual accuracy. Be especially careful of changes that remove the conversational tone inherent in spoken quotes.
Fact-Checking: Writers must verify all facts in a story and are the primary fact-checkers. The best practice is to check individual facts or passages with sources, rather than sending the entire story.
Voice: The following words characterize our ideal editorial voice: lively, engaging, creative, accessible, immediate, honest, candid, transparent, intelligent, informative, insightful, thought-provoking, friendly and vibrant.
Style: For the most part, the Communications team follows the Associated Press Stylebook. Exceptions and points of special interest are listed in our Editorial Style Guide, which the Assistant Editor maintains.
Plagiarism: Writers must never plagiarize and must give proper credit to avoid even unintentionally passing off someone else’s work as their own.
Length: Our website news stories and Q&As are usually 400-600 words long, in accordance with the prevailing research about online reading habits. Q&As should include three to six questions, and no answer should be longer than 150 words. Edited video pieces are about 1–3 minutes in length. Photo slideshows include 6–24 images, depending on the project. In some cases, web stories are best told in a longer form, but that is the exception, not the rule. Writers who wish to pursue articles longer than 600 words for the website must obtain prior approval from the Editorial Director.
Deadlines: It is imperative that writers meet agreed-upon deadlines. If this becomes impossible in the course of reporting and writing a story, they must talk with the Editorial Director right away.
Headlines: Writers should submit stories with at least one suggested headline and subhead.
Corrections: If any fact in a story is wrong, we will correct it quickly and transparently by (1) making the appropriate edits within the text, and (2) including an asterisk at the end of the corrected sentence pointing to a new line at the end of the piece that explains how and why the wording has been revised from the original.
Video and Photography
We tell stories with images as well as with words. Decisions on how to illustrate a story—whether with video, portraits, journalistic photography or stock photography—are made by the Director of Digital Communications in consultation with the story’s writer and the Editorial Director, based on needs, usage and resources.
Writers, editors, photographers and videographers are responsible for managing their own deadlines.
Writers file completed stories by emailing them to the assigned editor. Edited stories will be returned to the writer for further work, if necessary. Once there is a final version, the writer sends the final text to the Director of Digital Communications, copying the Editorial Director.
Videographers and photographers file completed assignments by sending them to the Director of Digital Communications.
Once a story is posted, writers send a link to those featured in the article.
While Athletics Communication is part of a different division at the College, we strive to actively celebrate the successes of varsity teams. When a team wins a NESCAC championship, we publicize the win on our social media channels and by linking from the College's homepage news panel to the Athletics Communication story.
For post-season NCAA success, our plan is as follows:
- Appearance in the Final Four: We promote the game(s) in advance via the top panel on the College homepage and on our social media channels two days before the first competition. If e-News comes out in the same week as the Final Four/championship weekend, we will include information in e-News telling readers how to watch.
- Championship game appearance: We revise the homepage language to indicate that the team is playing in the championship game. We also congratulate them on social media. If the team is unsuccessful, we offer congratulations on a strong season via our homepage and social media.
- NCAA championship win: We congratulate the team via the top panel on the College homepage and on our social media channels, share the Athletics Communications story on the homepage and on social, and include that story in the biweekly e-News.
When an individual student wins a national championship, we offer congratulations via the top panel on the College homepage and on our social media channels, share the Athletic Communications story on the homepage and on social, and include that story in the biweekly e-News.
It can be helpful to think of national news sites as our main competition, as we are vying with these sites (and with a multitude of other media) for the limited time and attention of our readers. What would make you, the reader, spend more time with an Amherst story than a New York Times or CNN story? This is a useful question to consider throughout the editorial process. Our news site is valuable only when an audience engages with it. We aim not only to produce first-rate content but to ensure its broad reach. Amherst is brimming with rich stories—stories to be found inside classrooms, labs and offices; on the athletic fields and courts; around tables in Valentine and chairs on the Main Quad; in every performance space; and beyond. In our daily work to seek out and convey such stories, we are most successful when we serve the reader above all else.
|Editorial Guidelines (PDF)