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Editing Online Content

Online content is simple to post and change, but in many organizations, online content doesn’t undergo the same editorial rigor as print content. Sometimes fast-breaking news leads to inaccuracies in online content; however, some errors are due to poor review processes.

My state is currently experiencing wildfire season, and facts change as quickly as the wind. Is a fire at 500 acres, 600 or more? Some readers are interested in the general news about the fires, but for people who live in the fire zone, the particular facts are very important. Just today I read an online news article that had two different size statistics – the headline said, “Lime Gulch Fire Grows to 498 acres.” In the body of the article, the size was described as “more than 600 acres.” It is likely that a reporter updated the content of the story without updating the headline. This is an understandable mistake, except that even the teaser for the article clearly showed two different numbers. An error that even someone who isn’t an editor should be able to correct. And if a news site isn’t reliable with facts, then they are not actually serving their audience.

These are my suggestions for minimum standards in online content:

  • Spell check all content. This seems obvious but based on what I read online, this step is sometimes skipped.
  • Double-check all numbers, names and addresses.
  • Read content out loud. This step can catch incorrect words that spell check misses.
  • Re-read the headline, content and captions one more time.

These are definitely minimum standards. A better process, that is unfortunately not always planned for or funded, is to have fresh editorial eyes look at the content. A quality online process will include one person entering content and at least one other set of editorial eyes approving content before it goes live online. Sometimes just a few extra minutes can make the difference between errors and quality.

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