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Should we blog our first drafts?


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November 15, 2005

Should we blog our first drafts?

Stephen Baker

I'm facing a job unheard of in the blogosphere. I've been told to rewrite a story with an entirely different approach. I'd worked hard on the draft, and I liked it. My question: When we publish this story, should I blog the first draft? I'd imagine that at least a few readers will prefer it, and there's no shortage of space online. In the end, it will be up to the top editors to decide how much of our editorial process we want to open up.

05:54 AM

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When I started my political blog two years ago, I used to post drafts of my now-defunct bi-weekly column. Reader feedback was priceless.

Posted by: La Shawn Barber at November 15, 2005 08:27 AM

A lot about blogging is all about having your unmediated voice resonate out there. It's because you are under the BusinessWeek umbrella that you are facing this interesting dilema.

Your thoughts are interesting.

On my blog, recently down due to a hack attack, I used to debate my posts, not with an editor, but with myself and only then put them up. Many bloggers seem to be shooting first and thinking later.

Posted by: Nishad at November 15, 2005 09:12 AM

As a former journalist, it would be neat to hear the "inner workings" of the edit staff at BW. But, from BW's and most of the rest of the world's perspective, would anyone really listen?

I don't know you Mr. Baker and am not about to make any assumptions about you relating to my following comments. For anyone who writes, I'm sure the feeling of having to re-write something we've worked hard to do -- and liked -- is common. Not regular, but it does occur when we have editors we report to.

Yes, it stinks when something you have created is not accepted and has to be re-done. It's almost like a part of you has to be destroyed.

So, you do have my condolences.

Your last line reminds me of an Adam Penenberg story about journalists who blog. (If you don't mind a self-promo, I posted about it here: http://www.mikespoints.com/archives/001045.html.)

Blogging usually allows for free, open and honest communication. But, as a journalist, I would think there are boundaries on how much you can blog about. The boundaries not only deal with your employer's rules, but in areas of credibility, objectivity, etc.

Blogging and journalism are closely tied, but should not be mixed. There are distinctions that should be kept to keep each function pure.

All the best,

Mike

Posted by: Mike Driehorst at November 15, 2005 09:15 AM

My "blink" reaction is: no. Articles aren't a collection of sentences, they're a specific assignment that you're trying to address, a story you're trying to tell, Stephen. If the existing story isn't working for some reason and needs to be retooled (which, btw, I've done more than once myself), then I think of the interim drafts as just stepping stones along the way, pieces that live purely so that the final article can be even that much better.

If you're going to post the interim story, then when you write a paragraph of your next story and decide that maybe it should be rewritten or deleted, would you blog it instead? Could be an interesting free-association sort of blog, but I'm not sure it's going to be very coherent. :-)

Posted by: Dave Taylor at November 15, 2005 09:32 AM

Why wait, post it right now. Then we'll really be able to tell you if it's worth it. ;->

I'd also like to see your notes and full transcripts of the interviews, not just the bites that made it into the article.

I guess the quesiton is this -- what's your goal? To lead the readers to a certain set of conclusions, or to provide them with lots of information and points of view so they can form their own opinion? As a business pub that's meant to (at least in part) serve investors, I can't imagine how it could be anything other than helping the reader form their own opinion.

I also think it's worth noting that the other commenters look at it from your pov, not the reader's. Imho, that's wrong, you're doing your job for the readers, not the editor, not even for you. When you're blogging (an amateur activity) it's a bit different.

My two cents of course, ymmv.

Posted by: Dave Winer at November 15, 2005 10:22 AM

I would suggest using a wiki for building a draft, not a blog - wikis are good at collaboration, blogs are good for posting content related to time and topic (just my $0.02 opinion).

Some questions this raises for me are:

What value does the author add to the story?

How does she keep the story's voice intact?

Who gets authorship in this case?

And a note - blogging the draft will probably not change the opinion of the publisher about whether or not they like the story.

Posted by: Bob Hays at November 15, 2005 10:38 AM

Interesting questions, Dave. I think at least one of our goals is to provide readers with a coherent line of analysis, backed by reporting. There's lots and lots of information out there, and for news magazines to remain relevant (or dare we say, essential) they have to provide context. But there's no reason in the limitless space of the Internet that we can't provide more than one angle on a story, along with lots of the reporting.

Posted by: steve baker at November 15, 2005 10:47 AM

If directors can release DVDs with alternate endings and cut scenes, I say you can too!

Posted by: dg at November 15, 2005 12:14 PM

If the changes mean the original premise of the article is no longer supported, then sure, I'll read the first draft. If you're particularly proud of a turn of phrase or even a whole theme then no, I don't need to see it. Think carefully - just because you can publish something, does that really mean you should? Why do magazines have editors anyway?

What did Mark Twain say? To paraphrase - "kill your darlings."

Posted by: C. Herrera at November 15, 2005 12:43 PM

One thing that the SiliconBeat guys (Matt Marshall and Michael Bazeley) are doing quite effectively is writing pieces for the San Jose Mercury News, and adding to stories on their blog. On the latter, they are not limited by a given size the piece must fit in - allowing them for example to put in more complete transcripts of interviews, and they can post more opinionated comments.

And obviously, you can comment and get into a discussion.

I find the mix quite interesting.

Posted by: Jeff Clavier at November 15, 2005 12:59 PM

Hey Stephen,

back in the spring I wrote a feature for the Times magazine on Wikinews that they killed. Rather than leave it buried on my hard drive I shared it online with folks in the form of a blog - http://citizenskane.blogspot.com - and not only did I get great feedback but I reached a stronger niche audience than I might have with the magazine. So yeah, share your first draft - it might generate pertinent feedback to make the rewrite stronger.

matthew

Posted by: Matthew Yeomans at November 16, 2005 12:04 PM

Steve;

How do blogs fit into "new media," vis-a-vis this weeks reports on declining newspaper circulations (down more than 2%) How serious is Business Week about blogs? They don't seem to be used that much. What are traffic counters telling you?

Thanks;

Keith DuBay

Posted by: Keith DuBay at November 16, 2005 12:49 PM

The best part of all, the absolutely most delicious part, is finishing it and then doing it over ... I rewrite a lot, over and over again, so that it looks like I never did.

-Toni Morrison

May your entirely different perspectives come alive in colourful drafts on the web. The reader has nothing to lose only gain by seeing the story develop and revised ... I look forward to seeing your ideas spread in the virtual world.

Posted by: jozef Imrich at November 20, 2005 05:06 AM


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