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Back when rocks were soft and the world wide web hadn't yet been invented, I worked on a college newspaper that, I was told, followed the same patterns as professional papers. (That is, the skills we learned doing this would transfer.) Between the journalist's story submission and the print copy stood an editor, who reviewed the story -- not just proofreading but assessing whether the research level was right, anything important had been missed, etc.

Today, in the age of instant reporting on the Internet, where a delay of half an hour is significant, what is the role of the editor? Does that job function still exist for online news sites?

(As you can surmise, I didn't end up going into journalism. But because I went into a different type of writing, I sometimes find myself talking with young folks considering writing careers and I realized I'm out of touch on this particular industry.)

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I'm mildly horrified, on rereading, that I referred to "young folks". When did I become an old fogey? :-) –  Monica Cellio Feb 7 '13 at 17:48
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When you started yelling, "The music today, it's terrible! And get off my lawn!" –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 7 '13 at 22:26
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When I worked for a major web portal, I was "in a different dept" and all I got was a bit of word on mouth, coffee gossip and "customer interview" (editors discussing features they needed in the portal), so take this with a grain of salt, especially that it was a moderately average portal in a backwater country on an unfashionable continent.

The job is 95% skimming news from news agencies, picking out news to be published, attaching own features of the portal (assign section, link related stories, add keywords, add a map link, possibly add stock photos, dedicated commercials) and pressing "publish".

In essence, you read hundreds of news snippets, pick out the juicy ones, then apply some minor processing to turn them from bland, raw, plain "agency" format into fancy "our own".

There's very little of actual editing: the agency news are usually edited by their own editors to be very "clean" and rarely need corrections. You just decorate them a little and push to their relative page.

Of course the remaining 5% was old-fashioned editing with user-submissions, picking out interesting comments, working with their own news crew with local news - if something happened in our half of the city, we'd have first-hand news before the rest of the world would get their agency news, and also if there was some festival or other event with major media presence, the news crew would attend and submit their scoop for editing. But seriously, that was more for marketing purposes - for show-off, that we do have any news crew, and do more than just aggregation, than to create actual news.

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This depends largely on the site. On some sites, editors just collect and aggregate news. On others they write columns or work with other columnists. On websites that have a print section, they may just coordinate with web producers. However, it is still very much a job.

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