Online producers are responsible for organizing and presenting information that is available on Web sites. They edit and/or write news stories, arrange the text, and any accompanying photos for online publication. They sometimes work with other workers to incorporate slideshows, background music, or audio interviews to better complement a story. While many online producers are employed in journalism, a growing number of producers find work managing corporate Web sites for advertising agencies, employment firms, pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, and other organizations. Online producers are also referred to as content producers and online editors.
Online Producer Career History
The manner in which people receive news and other information has changed with the popularity of computers and access to the Internet. People crave news— from breaking stories to real-time baseball scores—and are no longer willing to wait until the next morning’s edition of their favorite newspaper to stay up to speed with the world around them. Also, portable computers and PDAs made access to the Internet possible while commuting to and from work. Web-based editions of newspapers, television stations, magazines, and radio stations have quickly found an audience. Online producers, professionals with writing and editing skills, as well as computer savvy, are needed to maintain these sites with well-written and well-presented articles. Additionally, online producers are in demand in nonjournalistic settings as many businesses and other organizations seek a place on the Internet.
Online Producer Job Description
Online producers working in journalism are responsible for the daily writing/editing and presentation of information appearing on their organizations’ Web sites. Most forms of media—newspapers, magazines, television, and radio— have a Web-based equivalent where people can access news and information on a 24-hour basis. Online producers take news articles originally published in that day’s paper or broadcast and translate them into appropriate content for the organization’s Web site. If new developments have occurred since the story was first printed, they are incorporated into the online version. Special coding is added to the article, most often HTML, which allows the text to be posted on a Web site. Links or related keywords are added so the article will show up in searches and archives.
The Web version of a story must be presented in a different way than it is on paper—text is often edited to be more concise and engaging to the reader. The layout of the entire article is key—if it does not grab the reader’s attention, online readers may ignore the story. Online producers may choose to include features such as photos, video, animation, music, or art. Since space is not an issue on the Web, many articles run with sidebars, photos, and other features not originally included in the print or broadcast edition. Online producers often work with multimedia producers to create special content packages such as videos or an audio slide show—a series of photos presented with an audio voiceover—to further enhance a story. Other stories lend themselves to special art provided by different vendors. Online producers, working with the advertising and technical departments, decide on which pieces to purchase and use. Sports sections, for example, often use team rosters and statistics to complement special event coverage such as the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Olympic Games.
On an average shift, online producers can expect to produce about two to four dozen stories. Many of the stories are filtered from the day’s print edition, but some will be reported directly from the field, or from newswire services. Some online producers, especially at smaller companies, are responsible for producing all news stories, regardless of subject. Online producers employed at large media companies may be assigned a specific beat or area of expertise such as world news or sports. Teamwork is part of the job as well. When an important story unfolds or a special edition is being created to cover a major event—such as the death of a religious leader or a presidential election—online producers will work with other members of the editorial staff to get the news posted as quickly as possible.
Online producers also work in the corporate world at companies that range from advertising agencies to national retail chains. Producers employed in this capacity deal more with the design and maintenance of the Web site, or in some cases, multiple sites. An online producer working on a retail Web site coordinates with the company’s creative merchandising team to launch a new product line or shopping portal. They monitor the site to make sure links are working properly and troubleshoot any problems. Online producers working for a school or professional organization may be responsible for setting up and moderating forums and chat rooms as well as creating online banners, online company newsletters, and posting relevant news articles regarding their employer.
Online Producer Career Requirements
Solid computer skills will give you the edge over other candidates. Prepare yourself by enrolling in every computer class your school has to offer, from programming to Web site design. Familiarize yourself with different software programs such as Adobe Photoshop, DreamWeaver, or Homesite and different markup languages such as HTML. Round out your education with classes such as business, math, and English. Since many online producers have a journalism background, you’ll need strong reporting, writing, and editing skills to keep up with the competition. Any classes that require written reports as regular assignments are wise choices.
While there are many routes of study in preparation for this career, many online producers enter the field after earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism. In fact, many schools now offer Web-based media classes as an elective to their traditional journalism studies. Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, for example, now offers a New Media concentration alongside traditional print, broadcast, and magazine journalism curricula at the undergraduate and graduate level. Besides the demands of good reporting and writing, New Media students are taught various computer languages, publishing software, and interactive tools needed to present news online, as well as how to address the challenges of instant, space unlimited publishing. Check out Medill’s Web site (http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/) for more information.
Do you perform well under pressure? Can you quickly change gears and focus on a completely different project without complaining or losing momentum? Are you self-motivated and an independent worker, yet capable of being a team player? If you answer yes to these questions, you have some of the skills that are necessary for success in this industry.
Exploring Online Producer Career
Creating your own Web site is an excellent way to explore this career. Not only will you gain experience in Web design, coding, and different software programs, you’ll have total editorial control.
Does your school paper have a Web site? If not, take the initiative and build one. As online producer for this project, you can add photo slideshows of the school prom, add a team roster graphic for the winning basketball team, and spice up your site with links to school clubs and organizations.
You should also surf the Web to view existing news and corporate Web sites. Write down what you like and dislike about each. Are the links relevant? Is the story portrayed in a concise, yet informative manner? If given the chance, what improvements would you make?
You might also consider becoming a student member of the Online News Association, a professional organization for online journalism professionals. Besides presenting the latest industry news, the association’s Web site offers a wealth of information on available internships, school programs, conferences, and forums.
A job as an assistant or associate online producer is a common starting point for this career. Many companies hiring online producers require at least three years experience in Web journalism. Internships are your best bet to gain experience and training as well as valuable industry contacts for the future.
Check with you school’s career counselor for possible leads on summer internships; some publications or companies may hire high school students. Even if you spend your working day running for coffee or answering phones, at least you will be in the company of industry professionals. Contact your local newspaper to see if any part-time employment opportunities are available during the school year or summer vacation.
Also, check with associations for job leads. The Online News Association posts job openings nationwide. Poynter Online (http://www.poynter.org/), in addition to being a great resource of industry news, offers seminars, fellowships, tip sheets, and links to employment possibilities.
Larger publications promote experienced online producers to senior or executive status. Those employed at regional publications could seek jobs at larger publications with broader news coverage. Online producers working in the corporate realm could advance their careers by working for larger, more diverse companies, or those with multiple Web sites.
Although no specific salary statistics are available for online producers, earnings for these professionals are generally similar to that of traditional editors—although online editors may earn slightly more than their print counterparts. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median yearly income of traditional newspaper editors was $45,510 in 2005. The lowest 10 percent of all editors earned less than $26,910; the highest 10 percent earned more than $85,230. Online producers typically receive benefits such as vacation and sick days and health insurance.
Online producers—especially those in journalism— work in hectic, fast paced environments. Deadlines are short and may come at any time of the day or night. Online producers must be able to drop a current project, shift gears, and quickly focus on a breaking story. Most online producers have more editorial control as opposed to editors on the print side of a publication. Since much of their work is done after editorial offices have closed for the day, they often make key decisions on what stories are posted at the organization’s Web site.
Web sites operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week. News is often posted minutes after it has occurred. Work shifts are scheduled to accommodate this and may vary from week to week. Nontraditional work hours can be physically exhausting and, at times, affect an online producer’s personal life.
Online Producer Career Outlook
The Web has already had a major impact on how people receive and access their news and information. And with the popularity of portable computers and cell phones, and PDAs with Internet access, the number of people turning to Web-based news and information is expected to grow. Most, if not all, forms of traditional media—newspapers, magazines, and television—have a Web-based counterpart. And with more corporate, small business, and professional organizations seeking a presence on the Web, the need for capable online producers is certain to increase.
Industry experts predict that some duties of online producers, such as story production and layout, may be eventually automated, leaving producers more time for original reporting in the field. Also, look for online producers to enjoy increasing opportunities with startup online publications that do not have ties to a print or broadcast entity.