Writing early morning web news

Today I wrote 7 stories between 6am and 8am and published them direct to the Insurance Times website – they also appear on the sites of Global Reinsurance and Strategic Risk.

Today was a reasonably typical day. First I look at a news aggregation website News Now, set for insurance (link opens new window). There were remarkably few stories of interest. I got two, both of which I would have picked up from Dow Jones anyway.

Then I look at these individual websites (links open new windows), searching for “insurer” and then “insurance”

I cut and paste the bits of interest and the direct URL to link back to the story into a word document I have set up as a template – the text, standfirst and headline all appear in the document as they will appear on screen, once on the site.

I then set about editing and re-writing them, extracting the main insurance points from often wider topics.

I then front-load the first par with proper nouns and key words, making sure I put appropriate acronyms and shortened names as well as full titles. This helps search engines and web surfers. I have a rule of no more than 30 words in the first par, which is often a challenge when using full titles and adding at least a 3-word source.

Tea for two

At about 7am I quit the office temporarily, put the kettle on and wake up my wife with a cup of tea and my daughter with a hot chocolate. My son drags himself out of bed and hits the shower.

I get back in the office and look at the London Stock Exchange announcements. These come out at 7am but are never actually viewable in full then so it is always worth waiting until a few minutes after 7am otherwise you miss some late arrivals.

In the results season I can be faced with 3 company results to get through. Most days, though, there are none. Occasionally there will another announcement of interest – a director change for example, or a rights issue.

Today there was an Australian company announcing its results. It has a UK arm and recently sold off some of its UK business so I grabbed those results from its website and wrote a story about the UK business.


About 7.30 I have to have all my stories finished, including any links I need. I then log in to the Newsquest secure server. This cuts me off from the rest of the internet and from my emails. I log into the Insurance Times Webvision CMS and start uploading stories.

I have to:

  • Paste in the story, standfirst and headline
  • Format subheadings (I put them in about every 3 pars but they must be relevant)
  • Format bullet points (always good on the web)
  • Select the copyright status of the story
  • Select a picture and write a caption and an alternative attribute
  • Select on which sections of each magazine’s site the stories must appear (for Insurance Times the front page, breaking news and ticker)
  • Select related publications (Global Reinsurance for reinsurance stories)
  • Link to related stories (searching and from memory)
  • Include links to relevant external websites
  • Select the format for the chosen image

I finished at 8am and 5 of the 7 stories were already showing on the site. The other two appeared while I ate my breakfast.

There was typo (a missing quote mark) on one story so I went back in and corrected it.

The stories

The shortest story today was just 21 words long, yet had two sources (it would have been 17 words with no sources acknowledged):

Australia’s biggest property and casualty insurer QBE sold £550m of six-year benchmark sterling bonds, due in 2015, Reuters and Bloomberg report.

I used an image of the company logo and in addition to the two sources I linked to the company’s website (link opens new window)

Most work

The story requiring the most work was about Allianz quitting the New York, London, Milan, Paris and Swiss stock exchanges link opens new window).

Dow Jones, Reuters and Bloomberg all had lengthy stories on this but each had slightly different elements.

I pooled these, acknowledging the sources into a single story of 188 words. I broke my 30-word intro rule by 1 word, but I had to name all the different stock exchanges and I included a quote. You can take too long trying to trim one more word. Time is my enemy.

I used an image of the New York Stock Exchange

Lead story

The lead was the QBE results because they were the newest item. I used a photo of the UK MD Neil Utley. With so little time, I included quotes from him in the annual report. Getting hold of people at that time in the morning is notoriously difficult.

On the other hand, on Friday 11 September, despite camping in Ullapool, north Scotland, and working through a Vodafone dongle, I did have to call Fortis after Tesco announced details of its insurance tie up with the company.

The Fortis PR, Paul Lynes, insisted on emailing me a quote, which, because the computer was logged into the secure server, I had to pick up on my mobile phone and re-type into the story.


The Association of British Insurers (ABI) just emailed a press release that the Financial Service Authority (FSA) appears to have released on Headline Money yesterday. I wrote the story yesterday even though the source press release was not on the ABI’s website.

Worse still, on 21 September the ABI sent a release dated 16 September about the latest credit insurance figures. That story appeared in the FT on 17 September and I wrote a story from that on 17 September too.

Perhaps I’ll never fully understand the minds of PR people.

All 7 of today’s stories (all links open new windows)
(after a while these will only be viewable to subscribers)

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7 Responses to Writing early morning web news

  1. bob jones says:

    On the behalf of slugabeds everywhere, whew! Rather you than I.

    best wishes


  2. Most impressive Chris and all before 8am by which time all I’ve done is walk the dog (and feel hard done by)

  3. Pete Jenkins says:

    I have been known to take a picture or two Brian :-)

  4. The pictures of you are fine.

    Criticism of photos by people who only string the alphabet together don’t count anyway.


  5. Pete Jenkins says:

    Can’t help feeling you could have used better pictures of your goodself.

    Also if all the words are taken from other online journals how do you get the time to check and verify whether theyu are actually accurate and not just regurgitated press releases.

    Seven stories in two hours sounds like heavy going…

  6. Mark Bishop says:

    ABI – never the same since I left them. Many people now say it’s better -but I doubt it ; – )

    Yes a few trypos but you are only human!

    I’ll add you to my following list on Twitter

  7. I think it’s interesting to read what is going on in your daily life as a journalist/human being. I’d edit the copy a bit to make it sharper and avoid repetitions (for instance, I wouldn’t repeat Today in second paragraph and I would start with a strong opening, for example an elaboration on lack of stories, which must make your work difficult/dull). Couldn’t resist pointing these things out, a sub’s old habits die hard.

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