Facebook Twitter Linked In Google+ Vimeo YouTube Flickr     My Account     icon_home_white_small.png  Public Home     Connected Community Lobby     Contact Us

Public Sample of the
Online Ministries Community Blog

Aug 22

How to Write for Web Pages - Part 11 – The Lifecycle of a Story

Posted by Bill Anderton

In previous installments of this tutorial, I have written about various phases of content development and how the story moves through pages to it completion.

In this installment, I am writing about the entire lifecycle of a story and where each phase and process fit a complete birth-to-death model.

I have written about some of this material has been discussed elsewhere in this tutorial, with pieces often provided in depth. However, I am going to summarize the phases and process here to make it easy to see the whole lifecycle within one installment.

I believe understanding of the entire lifecycle model for content will help writer-reporters better understand the web publishing process. Most writer-reporters only work on the content creation phase of the lifecycle and have no visibility into what is happening beyond the submission of the completed manuscript.

In this installment of the tutorial, I will describe a conceptual model of the lifecycle and describe each of the major phases of the lifecycle and the processes contains in each phase.

Lifecycle of a Story

All stories have a lifecycle that begins with an idea and ends with the story retired.

You can arrange the entire lifecycle of a story in a generalized timeline composed of five phases:

  • Ideation – Ideation is the phase of the lifecycle when you come up with the idea of the story. Ideation can include spontaneous instantiation, process-driven instantiation and third-party story pitches. The ideation phase ends when a curated idea is assigned to a writer-reporter for development.
  • Writing-Reporting – Writing-Reporting is the phase of the lifecycle when you research, report and write a story. This phase begins with the acceptance of an assignment by the writer-reporter and ends with the submission of the completed assignment to the webmaster.
  • Editorial – Editorial is the phase of the lifecycle when the story manuscript is prepared for publishing ad paginated. This phase begins with the receipt of the completed assignment from the writer-reporter and ends with the publication of the paginated story on a web page.
  • Live – Live is the phase of the lifecycle when the paginated page is made accessible for web visitors, public or private. This phase begins with the publication of the web page and ends when the story is remove from availability to web visitors.
  • Post –Publication – The post-publication phase is after a web page retires from view and is no longer accessible to web visitors. Pages can be physically removed from the website or placed in secure archives only accessible to site administrators. This phase begins with the removal of the page from accessibility by web visitors. Note that very few pages will even reach this phase in their lifecycle. Instead, live pages are typically “retired” to a past-events section but kept accessible to the public for historical value and as search engine “fodder.”

Each phase of the lifecycle contains multiple processes performed within the phase in a generalized sequence of events, some performed sequentially and some in parallel with others.

Lifecycle Model

One can show the entire lifecycle and is sequences graphically.


Each web publication might have a unique variation of the lifecycle model. However, the one shown about is the lifecycle model I use in my websites as a standard operating procedure. It is not as important that you conform to my model but that you have one. You should commit your model to paper and share it with the web team

Writers-Reporters’ Involvement

A writer’s involvement in a story might or might not begin in the ideation process. Some writers participate in ideation; some come up with their ideas themselves and some simply receive a writing assignment from webmasters or assignment editors.

The act of assigning a story to a writer-reporter and having the assignment accepted begins the writing-reporting phase of the lifecycle.

The writer-reporter primary work is in the process of developing the story. As the story progresses through its lifecycle, the writer progressively becomes less involved when with the story compared with the intense work of developing the story. However, the writer-report is never completely removed from the process.

Phase 1 – Ideation

All stories begin with an idea.

Some ideas are spontaneous and arrive in a flash. Other ideas come more slowly and as a result of an intentional ideation process where ideas are collected and curated. The best of curated stories get assigned to writers-reporters for development.

The ideation process is important enough to be worthy of a dedicated installment in this tutorial. My ideation installment will come in the next installment of this tutorial. I will discuss the ideation of stories in depth at that time.

For now, let’s assume that the idea for a story exists. Also assume that the idea has been curated and vetted. Serving as editor-in-chief of the website. the webmaster has decided that the story should be assigned to a writer-report and developed for publication in the website.

I will go into more details about the ideation phase in the next installment of this tutorial.

Phase 2 – The Writing-Reporting

In this phase, the vetted and curated idea is passed to a writer-reporter for developing the content.

In previous installments of this tutorial, I have written extensively about the processes that occur in this phase of the cycle. However, to recap:


This phase of the lifecycle requires a highly variable amount of time. For simple short news assignments with lots of pre-existing materials in the story’s givens provided to the writer-reporter, an experienced person might only need a few minutes to complete the entire phase. For a long-form complex feature assignment requiring lots of research and reporting, it might require months to complete.

The tasks in the phase happen, more or less, in the order shown. However, there can also be variations appropriate to each assignment.

  • The assignment – the assignment of a story by a webmaster to a writer-reporter is where the story idea begins to become tangible. The assignment is offered to the writer-report to develop, and the writer-reporter then accepts it. The offer and acceptance may be formal or information, but it is always overt between the webmaster and the writer-reporter. The assignment may take the form of a phone call or e-mail from the webmaster or assignments editor. Or, it may take the form for a formal assignment package provided to the writer-reporter with written instructions and background material. Upon acceptance of the assignment, the writer-reporter begins the development of the story.

The assignment from the webmaster may come to the writer-reporter with certain “givens” or details. The writer-reporter will typically work within the provided givens and develop the story accordingly.

An often un-discussed task that completes the assignment part of the lifecycle is starting a new notebook for the assignment. It is almost a ritual for writer-reporters to instantiate as a new notebook for a new assignment. I’m not talking about anything fancy. Field reporters usually use a cheap 4” x 8” reporters notebooks that are spiral bound with wire at the top. There are about 70 sheets (140 pages) in a notebook and cost $1.80 at Walmart. I write the title of the assignment of the cover along with the date I started the assignment. Everything I find in my reporting get written in the notebook.

  • Discussion – Even after accepting the assignment, the writer-reporter may have questions about the assignment and any provided givens. It is very common that a reporter-writer will discuss the assignment with the webmaster or the assignments editor. In the normal process of vetting and curating an idea for selection for development, the webmaster or story editor may have background information that might help in the development of the story. This background information can be passed along during the post-assignment discussion among all parties.

Discussions might include a wider group of people associated with the website. Wider discussions might be helpful in some situations where the stakeholders of the website might have certain technical requirements for the story, editorial views or important background information that should be passed along to the writer-reporter. For example, names and contact information for possible sources.

Discussions in this phase are not intended to replace the original reporting that is coming. Instead, discussions are typically limited to the assignment and any helpful background.

  • Questions – After the writer-reporter ccepts the assignment, and completion of any discussions, the writer-reporter will begin by developing a set of questions to address in the up-coming reporting. The resulting list of questions might be written down or held in the writer-reporter’s head. What is important is not how the questions get recorded, but the fact that the questions get formulated.

At this point in the reporting that is just beginning, the writer-reporter is an outsider, aloof from the details. This detachment and distance from any pending answers provide great opportunities to look at the topic of the story and see the obvious things or those things that should be obvious, but often obscured when one gets close to the topic.

The formulation of new questions never stops through the whole development processor. If you work hard (and smart), you will get the big question formulated quickly. As you go through the development process, your new questions will likely get more specific and smaller in scope or scale. Be open to surprises at any time, even late in the cycle, and be prepared for new questions at any time.

  • Research – With the initial questions formulated, writers-reporters should start their initial research. Here, I’m talking about spending time on the search engines finding all possible background information that might be related to the assignment. Great search-engine skills are important in these tasks.

The research at this stage doesn’t (or shouldn’t) replace the upcoming reporting tasks. Instead, in this initial research, writers-reporters are looking for context and deep background. This type of background research might provide some tentative answers to your initial questions, but should always be subject to your validation in your reporting. Or, this type of research might help you formulate additional more-informed questions.

  • Answers – As soon as you frame your questions, you can start finding answers. Some answers will be fact-based and come from your research, reporting and interviews. Some answers will be in personal opinions from your sources. It is important to attribute personal opinions to their sources. Opinions may vary from source to source and might not agree. If you cite the source of the opinions (like saying “according to …”), you are not endorsing the opinion only reporting it.

You as you will never be finished asking questions, you will never be finished finding answers too.

  • Reporting – Reporting is accurately collecting spoken or written accounts from sources of something that one has observed, heard, done, or investigated. You will not only collect their accounts; but also you will make some informed judgements about the reliability of the source.
  • Interviews – Interviews are a specialized form of reporting where a reporter speaks first-hand with human sources to collect their accounts. Interviews are typically in question-answer formats where the report asks the source a series of questions and makes notes of their answers or records them on audio or video media.

Although some interviews are spontaneous, reporters typically prepare for interviews in advanced based on their formulation of questions and research.

  • Writer’s reflection – After writers collect all of their research, questions-answers, reporting and interviews, they should engage in thoughtful reflection about what they have learned in their reporting and about the story itself. They should be seeking the essence of their stories and finding their leads. Your reflection is a very important step in the content-development process.
  • Writing – Now, with all of the previous processes completed, writers start the writing of the story. Some writers start with their leads and nut grafs first, other save them for last. I prefer starting with the leads and nut grafs because I want first to find the essence of the story. If I can find the essence first, the rest of the story seems to write itself.
  • Submit Story - When a story is finished and ready to submit to the webmaster or assignments editor, the writer-reporter should assemble all of the components of your finished story for submission to your webmaster.

Be sure that you use a good naming convention for all of your various files that you will be sending to your webmaster. Some webmasters may make a file-naming standard for use by the entire web team. If so, be sure to comply with the furnished standard.

Your submission should include all of the various files you make including the main story, metadata and any other files with important information including any photos you are submitting.

On large stories with many files in their submissions, some writers bundle all of their files into a single ZIP file. This technique is used not necessarily to compress the files for faster transmission but to put all of the files into a single ZIP archive to aid logistics by putting all of the files in one place.

Phase 3 – Editorial

The editorial phase is largely a quality-assurance or a quality-improvement phase that makes the most out of the writer-reporter’s manuscript. The phase also includes technical processes that paginates the story and adds it to the web server.


This phase of the lifecycle requires a highly variable amount of time ranging from minutes to a few days.

This phase can be executed manually or with the help of a content management system (CMS.) CMS-based web pages can complete the editorial cycle very quickly and efficiently.

  • Receiving – Almost all writers-reporters will submit their story manuscripts in the form of electronic files. Word processing files like Microsoft Word are typically the format of choice. Also, any photos supplied by the writer-reporter will be submitted too. The webmaster or assignments editor will receive the files. The first thing that done with the files is to write the original files to a storage system and backup the files for protection.

Work copies of the original should be made and distributed to the appropriate editor. Making work copies preserves the original as a fallback safety in case something goes wrong in the editorial process.

  • Copy editing - Copy editors check newly-submitted manuscripts from writers-reporters as the first step the in the pre-publication editorial process. They correct errors in grammar, spelling, usage, style consistency and conformation to the applicable stylebooks.

Copy editors are not proofreaders. Whereas proofreaders simply check for typographical errors, copy editor are seeking to improve the story in every sense, often catching even nit-picky things as it relates to consistency.

  • Fact checking - The webmaster or a person serving as a fact checker should check all cited facts to make sure they are correct and accurate. Unintended errors can easily get overlooked by the writer and fact checking is simply the last chance to get things right by having a second set of eyes to check all of the details.

The fact checker may also check all factual assertions to determine their veracity and correctness. The job requires a great deal of general knowledge as well as the ability to conduct quick, efficient and accurate research.

  • Photo editing - Any submitted photographs for the story will be reviewed by the webmaster. The webmaster will select one or more photographs for use in the story, and then cropped, sized and color-corrected as needed.

If a story doesn’t have any photographs, the webmaster may commission photos to be made by volunteer photographers. Alternatively, the webmaster may select some free pictures from public-domain sources or elect to purchase stock photography from the online stock photo agencies.

  • Plagiarism checking - It is important that your website does not plagiarize the content of outside third-party sources. Plagiarism is not only bad form; it can damage your credibility and the trust your visitors place in your website.

Webmasters should first deal with the problem of potential plagiarism by teaching writers about plagiarism and how to avoid it. Rookie writers may not even know that they are plagiarizing. Teach the proper way directly to quote third-party sources and how to use proper citations.

To backstop your training, use one of the online plagiarism checkers. Plagiarism checkers crawl and index the text that appears on billions of web pages and their databases available for checking. For all submitted stories, use one of the online plagiarism checkers to clear all of the text you publish.

  • Media preparation – You have to prepare all media intended for publication on a web page. Preparation might be something as simple as cropping or sizing a still photograph, to complex Photoshop processing or video encoding. Media submitted by writers-reporters or selected by webmasters will typically be prepared by the media specialist to yield maximum quality.
  • HTML coding - The finished, edited and checked story and all other files (including photos) will be added to a web page and programmed using HTML code for display on a web page.

Webmaster or a specialized web editor serving as a coding specialist typically code finished stories into HTML.

  • SEO - The HTML coder or automated CMS processes will place all of the page’s metadata in the appropriate fields within the appropriate HTML tags. Also, optimization of keywords with the corpus of the story will also be performed in this step if not done in the writing phase or early editorial processes.

Much of this information, including the metadata, will be very helpful to the search engine optimization (SEO) process. Wikipedia defines SEO as “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web pages in a search engine's un-paid organic search results.” SEO helps search engines in the indexing and ranking of stories so that more people can find the story in the search engines.

This step is very important for the overall success of the story and the page(s) that carry the story by increasing a page’s visibility among the general public.

  • Final check - In the operational culture of most websites, the webmaster serving as Editor in Chief of the website will usually make a final review of each web page. The webmaster will make this final review personally and then if satisfied, release the page to the public immediately upon completion of the review.
  • Make live – After the final check is complete, and the page released for publication, the story will be made available to the public. The exact process that makes pages live is a direct function of the website is operated on a simple web server or a more-sophisticated content management system (CMS). On CMS-base websites, many if not all of the previous phases and process will be performed online within the CMS. When it comes time to make a page live, it typically requires a single click. If a website operates on a simple web server, web technicians will manually load the HTML file and all other included files into the appropriate subdirectory of the web server and edit the sites various navigation to include a new page.

Phase 4 – Post-Publication Processes

With the story published, the fun begins. The published story is the payload. All of the work performed on the payload in prior phases was in order to get to this phase for the pay off.

However, after publishing the story, important work remains to be performed on newly published web pages.

Most of the post-publication processes make broader audiences for the new web pages. Because the webmaster typically performs the work in this phase, writers-reporters may not be aware of these tasks. Building viewership (readers) of published webpages is very much like the circulation department of a magazine or newspaper. It is important work. Why settle for merely hundreds of readers for your story when thousands are available, with a litter work!

Building viewership of the new web pages is not something that should be left undone. Don’t rely on, “If you build it, they will come.” Instead, you should be proactive.


This phase of the lifecycle lasts as long as the story is available to visitors online. The first few processes in the cycle typically occur the first week the story is online. The remaining processes can occur at any time over the remaining life of the story.

  • Public - With the publication of the web page, the page can be viewed by your website visitors. Visibility is immediate; the page will be instantly available to anyone who comes into the website.
  • Sitemap.xml - Once published, the webmaster or an automated process of the CMS will update the website’s sitemap file to add a new page. A sitemap is an XML file that is a list of pages of a web site that are accessible to search engine crawlers or users. The sitemap.xml file will list the date each page in the site got added, or last updated. Search engines can download the sitemap.xml file and quickly learn of all new or modified pages since the last time the page crawled.
  • Corrections – Although writers-reporters and websites’ editors should work diligently to get stories correct before being published, mistakes do happen. After stories are published, new information might surface from the public. Since web pages are electronic in nature, it is very easy to make corrections or add new information. Make any needed corrections as quickly as possible.
  • Crawl - As soon as scheduled, search engines’ crawlers will visit the site and crawl its pages. If the crawl has been triggered by the sitemap.xml submission, the crawler will focus on new and modified pages for indexing (or re-indexing.)

On advanced proactive websites pushing sitemaps.xml files to the search engines, this process can be very fast for Google, hours if, not minutes.

On less aggressive websites without proactive functions, this might take a week for Google to get around to crawling your site and even longer for the other search engines.

  • Indexing - When search engines finish crawling a web page, the significant words (everything except the small-word articles of grammar) are added to the search engines indexes. Also, the search engines use the same crawls to harvest all on the on-page signals that they use in the ranking processes.
  • Links – The webmaster will also seek opportunities to build links to interesting stories.

Good webmasters will not be satisfied with performing just basic on-page SEO techniques. In addition, they will look for other websites that will link to your story or public relations opportunities such as local press outlets (“old media”) to feature your story. At a minimum, they will promote the story on social media with links to your story.

Not only to these activities bring in new visitors to the website, they also provide signals that search engine can sense and then will use to increase the page ranking of your story.

  • Referrals – Referrals are inbound traffic that come to your web pages from search engines or other links to your web pages from third-party websites. Referrals are good things! You should proactively seek as many referrals as you can get by using SEO best practices and aggressive link-building.
  • Comments – Dynamic, interactive websites often put “comments” functions on certain web pages for collecting comments from the public. In some cases, the writers-reporters may participate in online discussion with the public about their stories. Interactive comments are good practices that help build relationships with website visitors.
  • Analytics - Immediately upon publication, webmasters will begin checking the number of visitors the new pages receive, the number of search engine referrals and be behavior of visitors while viewing the page. This work will include checking the web server logs as well as using more sophisticated tools like Google Analytics.

The general idea is to monitor how the public is using the page and tease out any indications of how the story is working among its audience.

  • SEO refinement – Stories should have comprehensive SEO processes performed before publishing the story. If using a sitemap.xml, the new story will be crawled and indexed right away. If SEO is complete prior to publishing, a new page will get off to a good start immediately.

However, after publishing a new web page and collecting real-world analytics over time, there may be opportunities to refine and improve SEO strategies.

  • Contacts - Your website visitors may contact the webmaster with question about your story. Most websites have “Contact Us” forms or publish e-mail addresses where visitors and contact the webmasters.
  • Followups - If visitor contact the webmaster of a website with questions about the story, it is a great opportunity to establish a relationship with the reader making the inquiry.

The webmaster will handle most of any follow-up required. However, the reader may ask one or more questions that the writer may have to answer. Typically, these questions will require information not contained in published story, but known by the writer as a result of their reporting. If so, the webmaster will contact the writer for help with the inquiry.

  • Retirement – At some point in time a story enters a “retirement” period. For example, the story of an upcoming event is no longer timely after the event has occurred. Its subject determines the lifecycle of a story.
  • Life after retirement – Retirement of a story doesn’t necessarily mean that the story gets removed from the website. Even a past-event story has a historical and archival value. My recommendation is never entirely to remove a retired story from your website. Instead, edit the retiring story to indicate clearly that the event has already occurred and is a “past event.” I move the retiring story to a “Past Events” section but keep it on the website. I found that even past stories can attract visitors for events that occurred years ago. When the visitor lands in the site to see the old story (clearly marked as a past event), they will frequently stay in the website and click to other more-current content.

Phase 5- Post Publication Phase

Sometimes, it is appropriate to remove old stories from the website. In these cases, I rarely delete an old story. Instead, I move the “dead page” to secure private folder on the web server (or CMS) where it can no longer be accessed by the public. I call this “near-line” storage; the files are online in an absolute sense but not accessible by anyone but the administrators of the website. Website administrators can still access the old page if needed and possibly re-activated at some point in the future if appropriate.

If you ever remove a page from public access or totally delete the page from the web server, you should always set up appropriate HTTP status code 301 for each removed page. The 301 code signals that the requested page has been assigned a new permanent URL and any future references to this page should use the URL automatically returned in the 301 code. You can redirect visitors to any page in the website you wish. Importantly, the search engines use the 301 code to trigger an automatic update to their indexes, this preserving your good will in the page, as well as it SEO rankings Ideally, you will redirect users to a more current page. Remember, the page you are deleting is likely indexed in the search engines. Rather than just returning a “page not found” error that dampens the deleted page’s good will, an HTML redirection code will take the user to a new page and inform the search engines of the change.

Category: (08-14) August 2014   Tag:

This is only the blog's abstract. To read the full text and participate in all of the interactive features of the community, please register. It's FREE!

Click Here To Register Into This FREE Community