Why DDM is so big on rubrics

4 reasons to implement content rubrics right now

Matt Hartvigsen | News Director, DeseretNews.com, DDM | @mkhartvigsen | May 1, 2015

Running a news website requires digital editors to make dozens of decisions each day. For example, where on the site should a piece of content be merchandized? How long should it stay there? What is the right headline? What is the best photo to use?

The process is further complicated because these daily decisions are most likely made by multiple team members with varied preferences, biases and degrees of experience.

How can leaders increase the likelihood that the editorial brand is reflected on the site at all hours, even when multiple people make changes at various times of the day?

That’s where content rubrics come in.

A content rubric is a set of rules that sets parameters for the way content is presented on the site. For instance, rubrics guide site managers to make informed choices about what kinds of stories should appear on the home page and with what degree of prominence.

At DeseretNews.com, we have established rubrics guiding different parts of our site. For example, we have a rubric guiding what kinds of stories to promote at the top of our home page. Another rubric helps us determine when to send breaking news alerts like emails and app pushes.

Ultimately, these rubrics ensure that our brand is consistently represented on the most prominent areas of our site.

In addition to these benefits, here are four more reasons you should implement content rubrics now.

1. Rubrics prevent brand collapse. With a variety of real-time analytics tools available, it is easy to get a snapshot of how content on a site is performing. Reacting to the data is key to running a successful site, but it’s easy to overplay popular content at the expense of the brand. When used correctly, rubrics help editors avoid promoting content that may perform well but at the expense of editorial voice.

2. Rubrics mesh the art of news judgment with data. Data can’t replace the art of news judgment. A rubric lays out the parameters and provides an opportunity for site managers to blend news judgment and data to make decisions. Site managers can learn from data, have freedom to incorporate news judgment and then act.

3. Rubrics facilitate a broad discussion about strategy. The key to establishing effective rubrics is getting the right stakeholders to discuss and agree to the standards, allowing that they may change over time. For example, as we worked with both print and digital teams to write our home page rubric, the interests of each group occasionally were at odds. Print wanted a strong news brand, and digital wanted to do what was best for traffic. The process of working on a rubric together helped us jointly articulate standards to which we all can agree. Once a quarter or so, we re-evaluate the rubrics to see if we want to make further refinements.

4. Rubrics empower employees. A rubric isn’t any good unless you implement it. We always limit a set of rubrics to what can fit on one page. The guidelines in a rubric should provide enough flexibility for team members to make a variety of decisions within the confines of an agreed upon framework. As long as decision makers stay in the parameters set by the rubric, they can feel confident that their decisions are brand-aligned and would stand up to the scrutiny of editors and managers.