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Editorial processes: the magazine vs. the blogs


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July 19, 2005

Editorial processes: the magazine vs. the blogs

Stephen Baker

I'm in an editing lull now, waiting for the writer to answer all the questions that I and others asked last night. So I thought I'd take a minute to compare the editorial processes at the weekly magazine and the blog. Recently a few people have asked me if we bend BW's traditional editorial practices when we blog. The answer is a emphatic "Yes!"

As you'll see as I outline the process, we face an enormous challenge as we plunge into different forms of online journalism, including blogging. It's to be true to our standards of editorial accuracy, fairness and quality--but with far less editorial oversight.

We're proud here of the work we do as a team to lift the level of each story. But what a slog. It's unthinkable for the blog world. Consider the path of a story as it winds its way through our system.

I looked at a draft of the story over the weekend, suggested changes, and spent nine hours editing it yesterday. (Usually two people share this job, but this week we're short-handed.) Then I sent it to the copy desk. There, people who are new to the story read it to see if it makes sense, if the thinking is logical, the context clear, the grammar and spelling ok, the names and titles correct. Meantime, some facts, such as names and Web addresses, are checked by a researcher. The copy desk sends the story, with questions, back to the writer and me. At the same time, the top editors of the magazine have a chance to read the story and suggest changes of their own. Potentially contentious or delicate stories are often sent upstairs to a McGraw-Hill lawyer, who might suggest further adjustments.

Today we work answering the questions, clearing up doubts, filling in holes, and cutting the story to fit on the page.

Then, wouldn't you know, the story goes back to the desk. They edit again--mostly proofreading, making sure questions have been answered, and writing display language this time around--and put it on a literal sheet of paper. Then that paper is circulated back to us. We read it and make fixes, and then carry it to the close desk, where editors make the final changes and push the button to send it to the printing press.

The editorial process of blogging is far simpler. We write, we publish. This takes our journalism into a new sphere, but carries inherent risks. How do we handle them? First, we reduce risk by avoiding the sorts of stories that require heavy editing. We don't blog investigative pieces, for example, or heavy financial analysis. Second, we consult our gut. If it looks risky, we'll push it toward the more edited BW Online or the magazine. Finally, when we make mistakes--which we do--we aim to correct them quickly and ask for your understanding. We're into something new, and all of us, you and I, are only coming to understand it as we create it.

05:42 PM

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Very interesting. Which magazine do you work for? OHH, right. Seriously, now, I only have a couple of quibbles.

First you start off with writing, "Do we bend traditional BW editorial practices?" I don't agree with that verb. I don't think we bend, I think we adjust them. I don't think that I consciously am not applying any of them. There are layers I don't have to fall back on anymore, like the copydesk. But like you say, when we have a mistake, we correct quickly, and I think openly.

And I actually have done investigative things on the blog that wouldn't have been that much of interest to the magazine or that were little investigations that wouldn't have sustained a story.

Posted by: Heather Green at July 19, 2005 06:01 PM

Great posting. Let me flip this around a bit and say that I'm really glad you retain a more rigorous editorial process for the print publication. While I am the first to be enthused about blogging as a new type of journalism (in some hands, somewhat), I do think that more credible publications must retain their long-tested editorial processes.

Yes, there are famous and well-known examples of poor journalism in print (the NYT comes to mind) but they're still relatively rare. By comparison, the vast majority of bloggers seem to fly fast and lose with facts, to the overall detriment of the medium and its credibility.

(one caveat: it's a sad fact that most newsrooms in the US have less fact checkers than they did even a decade ago. But the checks and balances of journalism have changed dramatically in the last decade too, perhaps balancing that out?)

Posted by: Dave Taylor at July 19, 2005 06:59 PM

I think the blogosphere has a self-correcting mechanism, from flaming and harsh comments, to reblogging with credits and critique, and other remedies.

My position is that the blogger must do it all: copy editing, fact checking, legal consulting, and hyperlinking.

Blogs need not be less credible or researched than print publications.

I refuse to believe that blogs are sloppy journalism by some intrinsic quality of the blog or blog software.

All the lame and lazy excuses that blog posts are quick and easy to post, no editor supervises or corrects, no committees encumber them...these are not the deciding factors of blog credibility.

I make known the credible online information standards I follow (Consumer Reports Webwatch guidelines).

B.J. Fogg at Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, Johns Hopkins University Library, CyberJournalist, and many other prestige resources have clearly identified online information standards.

Substandard practices exist in all media.

Blogs are attacked as being hurried, frantic, impulsive publishing, when this is true of only the amateur bloggers, not the hardcore contingent.

Posted by: steven streight aka vaspers the grate at July 20, 2005 12:36 AM

Stephen-

Reputable reporting follows the right set of rules. The blogger might not have the resources of McGraw-Hill, but maybe that means the scope of the piece gets limited to permit due diligence. Isn't that how blogs are supposed to be, anyway? short clips of what's going on at any given time? I remember at the start of this, you asked us for help as to what blogs were all about. I think we're finding some of the particulars of that.

cheers

Pete Z.

Posted by: Pete Zievers at July 20, 2005 09:18 AM

Good points all. I agree with Steven that both excellence and substandard practices exist in all forms of communication. And yes, as Pete says, we can limit our vulnerability in blogs by reducing our scope.

I wrote the piece really to respond to people who expressed concern that BW risked tarnishing its brand by backing blogs.

Posted by: steve baker at July 20, 2005 01:44 PM

I keep saying the same thing, but it doesn't seem to be getting through.

you can use a blog software package (like Manila) with RSS to streamline the entire process you have described. I mentioned in an earlier post that some version of a Mac magazine does exactly what you describe, but does it using a blog.

why do you post about the process? i can see that it is a laborious, pain staking process and it is a necessary thing. however, i can also see that it can be optimized. if you are interested in saving yourself some time, send me an email and i will hook you up with the Manila guys.

Posted by: jbr at July 21, 2005 04:45 PM


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