My friend and colleague Dave Taylor runs several hugely popular weblogs on tech, business, and parenting topics. This morning he had a post that I think many in the news business can relate to: Why Bloggers Must Be Historical Revisionists.
Dave’s posting echoes some themes of a good cross-blog conversation he and I had going earlier on whether it’s OK to edit or revise blog postings. (To follow that discussion, start with my Aug. 1 posting, Rewriting blog history: Bad idea, and follow the breadcrumb trail of links.)
Here’s how developments in the Jon Benet Ramsey case, which is a local story for Dave and me, sparked Dave’s latest observations on strategies for correcting or updating blog postings…
On Aug. 17, Dave broke away from his usual topics to post an item on Jon Benet Ramsey. Yesterday our local paper, The Daily Camera, excerpted Dave’s posting in their Aug. 28 “Final Word” section. The Camera’s excerpt was preceded by this: “Editor’s note: Visit Taylor’s blog for the full text of this post.” (They gave the main URL for his blog and the date of his original posting, but did not create a live hyperlink, nor did they link directly to his original post… Classic print-mindset mistakes, grumble grumble grumble…)
The problem is, Dave’s Aug. 17 posting was overtaken by events. As the world now knows, the Boulder County District Attorney yesterday dropped its case against suspect John Mark Karr when his DNA failed to match samples left at the crime scene.
Dave knew the Camera mention would bring lots of traffic to his Aug. 17 posting. He didn’t want appear unaware of the latest case development, so he added to the bottom of that posting a note which began: “Update, 28 August, 4.00pm MST: “John Mark Karr is no longer a suspect in the death of JonBenet Ramsey…”
Reflecting on this in today’s posting, he observed:
“A mainstream newspaper has a clear and obvious mission to report the news as it happens, and then report corrections and updates as appropriate. Once something’s hit paper, once it’s been broadcast, it’s cast in stone. You can’t reverse time, so there’s no way for a paper to change yesterday’s news.
“But that’s not true for us in the blogosphere. Indeed, the Long Tail basically predicts that older pages can well end up more popular than newer pages. That’s like a newspaper that knows its three-week old, or two year old, articles will be more widely read in a given week than what they published this morning.”
It’s an interesting point, but in the online age I don’t think the output of traditional news organizations is as “cast in stone” as Dave indicates. Not anymore, anyway. News Web sites are constantly updating stories. They have to. They have various ways of denoting these updates, leaving a breadcrumb trail through the historical record.
But Dave’s definitely right about this: In online media, older stories do tend to attract significant traffic, due to inbound links and because of how search engines build their indexes. That makes updates and breadcrumb trails crucial.
There is one component that Dave’s article overlooked: feeds. In most blogging tools and content management systems, when you update an item it gets republished to your feed as a new item. Therefore, I personally think update notices should appear right at the top of the story, where your feed subscribers will see it immediately. If you bury such notices at the bottom, they might just wonder why they’ve gotten the same story twice and not bother reading.
For news organizations, I’d even go a step further to say that the headline of updated stories should be revised to begin with “Updated:” because lots of people syndicate news headlines to their sites. If your headlines are likely to appear out of context, they should speak clearly for themselves.
Thoughts? Please comment below.