here used to be an American TV show called Schoolhouse Rock. It was an educational show with different segments teaching kids about the world, science, math, and even the government. My favorite segment that lived on through the years is a song and animated cartoon called "I'm Just a Bill." It was all about explaining the process of how a bill turns into a law through the US House and Senate. It's a feature of the American government most kids couldn't care less about, but someone felt it important to begin explaining the system to kids.
In that same vein, although not musical and not animated, I'm going to share the process by which an article goes from a writer to your DailyMTG.com screen.
In some ways, this article is another peek inside the walls of Wizards of the Coast. In other ways, it's a way for me to recognize and say thank you to the team I work with in making DailyMTG.com.
The first place we start, before the writers even begin tapping on their keyboards, is with me. As the content manager, my job at DailyMTG.com is that of planner and coordinator. I lay out the schedule for months in the future, coordinating with product releases, events, news, and other things we're doing. I just finished the last spots in March and am now three weeks away from completing April and May.
In many ways, my job is that of master juggler. I want to keep a lot of things in the air at once, such as juggling product releases, announcements, news, and more. I do this with a master calendar that looks something like this:
Increasing Confusion | Art by Dan Scott
The calendar is an always-open tab for me, along with a spreadsheet I use to track the week's articles. The spreadsheet is one I make available to staff writers as a way for all of us see that we received their articles without issue.
Concept and Writing
Aside from theme weeks, which give writers a common launching point, DailyMTG.com columnists are largely left to their own devices when it comes to writing. From time to time, I'll email the writers with ideas, and, conversely, I am always happy to help them brainstorm writing ideas if they reach out to me.
Writing is tough.
Sure, anyone can hammer on a keyboard and make words appear on screen, but writing cogent and quality content week after week is a really difficult task. The writers for DailyMTG.com are a fantastic crew coming from varying backgrounds and bearing unique interests in the game. With them, we're able to bring you some top-notch articles about the game each and every weekday.
For some writers, words flow from their fingers with apparent ease. Others struggle with nearly every article, locked in a mortal battle of wills. I'm a prime example of the latter—I am fantastic at generating the ideas, but when it comes to writing the actual article I find myself wrestling with the keyboard for revision after revision as I try to get the article to do what I want it to do.
Bloodletter Quill | Art by Dan Scott
The hardest thing for writers is to finish an article before they absolutely have to. Whether it's endless tweaking or simply writing up to the last minute, deadlines are a constant source of headaches.
Our deadlines vary from writer to writer. I, like Kelly before me, try my best to find the satisfactory middle line between working with a writer's schedule and our needs for editorial work on articles. Ideally, we have at least two days; for some we have more than a week, but for others it's always a day-of affair.
The most key element to being a successful writer is hitting your deadlines. An amazing writer does me no good if his or her articles continually come in late, such that all that amazing writing is an endless headache for editing and formatting. Seriously.
Sands of Time | Art by Paul Lee
That being said, let me give you a piece of advice: The way to beat deadlines is to set your own earlier deadlines and treat them as seriously as you do deadlines for others. It sounds silly to the layman, but it is a simple truth.
Only you can prevent missed deadlines.
When an article comes in, I give it a once over. I'm not doing a serious editing pass but mainly checking for trouble: missing decks, length, topical choices, things to warn Mike the editor about, etc. I've not yet had to send an article back to a staff writer, but this is where I'd make that call if I found a problem.
Once I pass it on, I send it to Mike McArtor, the copy editor for DailyMTG.com. Mike's a long-time editor and Magic player. He edits the articles and formats them to adhere to the DailyMTG.com style guide.
Editors are largely invisible to the public. I think of editors as being like the CIA. If they do their job well, you never know they were there; it's only if something gets missed do their presences get recognized. For that reason, an editor's job is troublesome, as they do something which rarely draws praise. I learned long ago that it was up to content managers to provide that positive feedback and make sure editors know that they rock.
Invisible Stalker | Art by Bud Cook
So Mike, as you edit this article, know that you rock, Sir, and I salute you.
The time for editing varies widely based on the article. Some writers are extremely clean and are quick to edit, while others might send in complicated essays filled with deep thoughts and complex sentences. In general, though, it takes at least two hours for a quality round of editing, and can take up to four hours or so on the higher-complexity articles.
Once Mike finishes editing, if we're on schedule, he then passes the edited document off to our graphics team of Tom and J. Tom has worked on DailyMTG.com for several years; he's got a great sense of design and knowledge of Magic art, which allows him to make our articles pretty. J is the newest addition to our team. I don't use J as some anonymous name; rather, that's simply all I know her by. She's our day-to-day graphic artist for DailyMTG.com, allowing Tom to act in a more supervisory role as well as tackle the myriad other graphic-designer tasks needed in the company.
The truth is, the hand-off post-editing is the ideal, but sometimes when an article comes in late we end up doing edits and graphics in parallel and then merge the edited document with the graphic markup.
Tom and J decide who's working on which articles and then go through them, reading the articles, highlighting where to show card art or cards themselves, and deciding when to do something different and fun.
Safehold Duo | Art by Izzy
Once the graphics are created, they pass off a marked-up version of the article document and all the assets to Garret, the site's programmer.
Garret takes the marked-up Word document and converts it to HTML, running it through our auto-tag macro and doing other voodoo that turns the document into the article on screen. The longer articles, or the ones that require more complicated interactions—such as Adam Styborski's Choose Your Own Deck or MaRo's support group for mechanics—add more time to the process, as they require unique formatting or problem solving.
Ninja of the Deep Hours | Art by Dan Scott
Garret inputs all the articles into our internal "dev" site, allowing us to review the finished product without making it public. He then sends a link around to the team for us to review.
Review is where we are checking for mistakes that might have crept in.
- For Tom and J, they are seeing what they sketched out in its final form, and sometimes they reconsider art choices or treatments.
- Mike reviews the article another time, looking for any mistakes.
- I review and check it from a more disconnected position.
In truth, though, we all check for everything. Sometimes we find broken URLs, other times we find weird display glitches such as the system inserting a space where there shouldn't be. Usually, articles get roughly half a dozen to a dozen edits before we pronounce them completed.
Swat | Art by RK Post
We'll review up to roughly 5 p.m. Pacific (ideally, at least; some days we run later). Once the day is locked in, we call it a day and prepare to tackle our Sisyphean task again tomorrow.
Living on the West Coast makes "Magic Midnight" much easier to maintain. Every night, when content goes up, it's only 9 p.m. my time. I'll check the site and what people say on Twitter, in case we missed something. And, despite the process I outlined above, we do miss things.
Here are a few examples of the mistakes we've fixed after articles go live:
- Wrong dates for something
- Wrong words (often homonyms)
- Broken links
- Card interactions that don't work
- Wrong decklists
And the list goes on.
There are a cadre of readers who are quick to spot mistakes and message me about them. Most of them are apologetic, but the fact is that I deeply appreciate people pointing out mistakes so they can be fixed.
Gather the Townsfolk | Art by Dan Scott
We do our best to catch everything, but things inevitably slip through the cracks. I do a lot of reading of other editorial content online and even the New York Times, one of the most highly regarded publications in the world, has enough editorial mistakes that they publish a blog about them.
From Draft to Article
And that's the journey of words across the Internet's series of tubes to bring you the content for DailyMTG.com each and every day. Sure, there are corner cases with all of this, such as talking about event coverage or what happens if one of us gets hit by a bus. But as with Magic's comprehensive rules, trying to cover all the corner cases leads to a monstrous tome—hardly a Monday read.
Like the journey in "I'm Just a Bill," I hope you enjoyed your peek inside the journey with "I'm Just an Article." It's not a harrowing journey, but it is a unique process happening within the walls of Wizards of the Coast.