Blog editing: A 21st Century Solution
By Scott Elliott
There is no question that there is a different standard for editing on a blog than there is in a daily newspaper. And there are good reasons for that. Over more than 100 years, newspapers have developed high standards for editing. Errors in print never go away.
They can be corrected in the next edition but that wrong paper can never be changed.
The Internet is different. On a blog, errors can be changed quickly and permanently.
What level of editing is appropriate for a blog? That question comes up nearly every time I speak about blogging with other journalists. The problem of editingcan be so difficult to resolve it can even squelch a reporter's blogging plans.
But let me propose to you a plan designed to calm nervous editors but still maintain the freedom and accessibility that make blogs so reader friendly.
Editing that can harm
The instinct for many old school editors is require blogs to be read by a line editor in a fashion that bears at least some resemblance to the way newspaper copy is edited. Usually, this means the reporter "files" the blog post and it then waits for an editor to read and approve it before the post appears online.
This is a formula for blogging failure.
Part of the appeal of a blog is its immediacy and its conversational voice. Traditional editing threatens both.
Newspaper editing jobs are busy and distracting. At my newspaper, hardworking editors read and post traditional news stories to the Web as quickly as they can, which can sometimes mean a couple hours after the story was filed.
On the Internet, speed is measured in minutes, not hours. One of the great advantages of a blog is news can be delivered to readers nearly instantaneously after a reporter has collected and confirmed the information. This is often true even if the reporter is in the field. Whether through satellite connection or free coffee shop Wi-Fi, reporters can bypass the newsroom and communicate directly with readers at lightning speed.
Web news consumers expect that degree of quickness. A two-hour delay is noticeable -- and disappointing -- to a Web reader who may instead look to a competitor (professional or not) for the information.
So if editing is to occur on blogs, it must be quick.
Conversational voice is also a key feature of blogging that attracts readers. Most editors today were trained to enforce the "institutional voice" of newspapers. Too heavy a hand in the editing process endangers the conversational style that gives a blog its uniqueness and sets it apart from traditional news stories. The uniqueness of the blogger's voice is an important part of what attracts readers and keeps them coming back.
Editing that can help
Still, you can understand why blogging makes editors nervous. The simple fact is that even the most experienced and professional journalist can make a big error, whether by clumsy typing or a momentary lapse in judgment.
And it’s those errors -- the big, embarrassing ones -- that editors most want to avoid. I imagine most editors will trust their reporters to fix their typos.
So is there a way to break this logjam? Can we reassure editors while at the same time allow bloggers the freedom to write effectively on the Web?
I think so.
If blog editing has become a paralyzing debate at your newspaper, try proposing this process:
Why it works
The goal here is to quickly get several pairs of eyes on any new blog post. These readers are not "editing" the post in a traditional sense. They are simply on the lookout for glaring errors or unintended and unforeseen problems.
The advantage of this process is it is protective without being stifling. Blog posts still make it to the Web quickly and the speed of the process discourages the heavy editing that can harm conversational style. Since the majority of readers will be other bloggers, they probably have a better sense of what works online and what doesn't.
If you are a reporter who has proposed starting a blog but the idea is hung up in your newsroom over the question of how the blog will be edited, try proposing this process as a solution.
Dayton (Ohio) Daily News reporter Scott Elliott has covered education for 10 years. His blog, Get on the Bus,launched in 2005, making it one of the longest running newspaper education blogs in the U.S.
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