Here is what digital publishers should know about how—and why—to create an editorial mission statement.
The Washington Post has one. So does the Los Angeles Times, and virtually every other major newspaper in the country. But you don’t have to run a national media organization to create an editorial mission statement. Publishers of all sizes, both online and offline, stand to benefit when they memorialize what they stand for and believe in as a company.
Beyond just covering the news, publications have values that their employees subscribe to. When publishers can be open and forthcoming about those values, they improve their relationships both internally (with editors and reporters) and externally (with readers).
Editorial mission statements can help editors as they choose which stories to cover, and they can clarify any guidelines or policies that reporters should understand as they go about interviewing subjects for articles. They can also help to clarify what type of organization a reader is giving his or her money to when deciding whether to subscribe.
What Is an Editorial Mission Statement?
Before you can get to work creating an editorial mission statement, it helps if you know what one actually entails.
An editorial mission statement can be simple and straight to the point, or it can be deeper and more abstract. For a look at what that means, let’s use these two examples:
First, we have an example of an editorial mission statement that gets straight to the point. This is from the Florence News Journal.
“The News Journal is a weekly newspaper providing news, advertising and information to enrich the lives of the people in the Florence area. Committed to the community, we offer a voice for the people, promote events, recognize achievements and present information in a fair and accurate manner. We desire to be a trusted source of local information and advertising content that is useful and valuable to the readers we serve.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have an example from the Los Angeles Times. The Times’ mission statement is 10 paragraphs long, but this small section is reflective of the larger theme, which reflects the basic principles of journalism.
“Freedom is our core value. We feel a special obligation to defend civil liberties and human rights. Because newspapers and other news media, uniquely among businesses, enjoy and rely on a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects freedom of the press, we assume an obligation to defend the rights of all citizens.”
Digital publishers can be as straightforward as they want. There is no right or wrong way to create a mission statement, just as long as it reflects the values of the organization.
Reasons to Create an Editorial Mission Statement
We know that news publications cover important events, but how do publishers, editors, and reporters decide which events are worthy of coverage? An editorial mission statement can offer the answer.
While larger publishers, including the Los Angeles Times, have editorial mission statements that broadly describe the principles of journalism, local publishers are often much more direct. Their mission statements are more likely to include details about the topics they cover.
Having a mission statement that’s published openly on the web gives readers a way to understand which news stories receive coverage and which do not. The more specific a publisher can be, the better. We’ve seen publishers use their mission statements as a place to define the geographic areas they cover and the specific topics will write about. (For example, a digital publisher might exclusively cover high school football news in Austin, Texas.) When readers can see the criteria for inclusion, they are less likely to be upset when topics or events they care about don’t make the cut.
6 Topics to Include in an Editorial Mission Statement
Now that we’ve covered what an editorial mission statement is, and why publications should have them, let’s get into the details about what to include if you’re creating one from scratch.
- What geographic areas does your publication cover?
- Which topics do you write about?
- Which values does your publication hold dear?
- What are the principles that guide your publication’s editorial decisions?
- Does your publication see the world through a particular lens?
- Do you have any reporting guidelines regarding victim or reader sensitivities?
An editorial mission statement can be one sentence, one paragraph, or one page long. Keep in mind that the longer the statement is, the less impact each sentence will have and the less likely people will read the statement in its entirety.
A growing number of digital publishers are creating separate diversity mission statements, as well, which are designed to sit alongside their editorial mission statements. Diversity mission statements highlight the ways the publisher is working toward getting different voices into the publication.
Does your publication have an editorial mission statement? If so, what does it include?