Breaking more than just news

Emergency stop button
Clicking on that publish button is a task often fraught with danger. In the 2-3 seconds it takes between that fateful click of the mouse and the confirmation page you begin to ask yourself all sorts of questions. Do all the links work? Have I misspelt anything? Have I misquoted someone? Does it make any sense? Are these the inane ramblings of a fool?

For me it always takes a strange cocktail of mental fatigue and summoned bravery to unleash content like this onto the web. Sure, you can always re-read anything shortly after publication and very quickly eradicate any ‘Goodness me, how did that slip through the net?’ moments. Or a kind (but with more than a hint of smugness) sibling/friend/colleague/cat can always point out your most glaring of errors with seemingly little in the way of effort required.

Of course, when it’s your own website, blog or social media profile you can usually take as long as you need to publish something. Not always healthy but by and large the pressure (externally anyway) is off. It’s when you’re tasked with publishing content for an organisation with a far larger online reach and responsibility that the pressure is cranked up a notch or twelve and those self-doubting questions receive more airtime within the confines of your brain.

Let’s be honest though: publishing mistakes and oversights will happen (some having greater ramifications than most). I’m sure we’ve all, with the help of an ill-chosen, character-stuffed hog of a heading, blown a website apart in our time. You know the type: the side navigation menu would be slammed so hard it would have to resort to cowering below the footer; taking shelter under the privacy policy and copyright information. Only a significant character reduction on the part of the heading (and the empty promise of a new colour scheme) could coax it back again.

Naturally it’s when time is at its most premium that the online publishing process receives its most rigorous of workouts. Creating and publishing the content behind a breaking story or an emergency for instance can often cause all carefully considered editorial checklists, style guides and workflows to be nonchalantly tossed aside in a frantic bid to get something…anything live.

With headlines, names, numbers, links, quotes, images, and the crucial facts changing as the story develops there’s often a temptation to publish now and hone later – regardless of the content’s initial quality and direction. Even the most serene and level-headed amongst us can lose focus in the blind sprint to provide the reader with information.

Clearly this haphazard approach makes for a veritable breeding ground for all kinds of errors and oversights that you would never usually dream of publishing to all and sundry. And with a likely upturn in exposure to your organisation’s web profile as a result of this story who knows what damage you could be doing to the way your audience perceives you?

As Google begins to apply further weight and prominent positioning to live search results the pressure for some to publish useful, usable, and shareable content fast will no doubt increase. Those editorial workflows, style guides and quality control checklists – considered mere obstacles during moments of high publishing intensity – have never been more vital to ensure the web content you publish is accurate, consistent, relevant, and supports your overall web content strategy objectives.

Before beginning to compose something, gauge the nature and extent of the enterprise and work from a suitable design. Sometimes, of course, impulse and emotion are more compelling than design. But even this kind of writing that is essentially adventurous and impetuous will on examination be found to have a secret plan.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, Longman 1999 (4th edition)

Simply put: it’s through a combination of good communication, an open culture of reviewing the work of others, as well as a healthy dose of scepticism that sees most glaring mistakes eradicated before the content sees the light of day.

And with that kind of support and filtering system in place you won’t have to approach the publish button with nearly as much trepidation – unless it’s your own website and the cat (still smug) has now assumed the role of editor-in-chief.

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5 thoughts on “Breaking more than just news

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  2. Carl-Magnus Löfström

    As a journalist the woes of getting published were a big issue in the beginning of my career.

    The only possible antidote is usually a healthy contempt of knowledge =). How would otherwise any journalist be able to interview a scientist for 30 minutes (who has worked 10 years on a project), write it down in 2 hours and then send it to print?

    Ok, that is an extreme and not correct when it comes to organisation communication. But it has some valid correlations. One of the biggest problems with getting stuff on the corporate site is that too many (read legal department and product experts) wants the information to be so correct that it is impossible to misinterpret. That usually needs advanced technobabble or 2 page legal document.

  3. Richard Post author

    Hi Carl-Magnus,

    I can understand how content that is moulded and shaped by several departments may have lost some of its initial verve when published. But errors like misspelling a name, listing the wrong phone number, or misquoting someone to such a degree that the information they’ve divulged can only be misinterpreted can easily be snuffed out with even a simple set of quality control filters.

    These filters exist in any sizeable organisation, but when the heat’s on (when isn’t it?) they can be disregarded and that’s when common errors creep in.

    There was a story over here recently about a British soldier’s grieving mother who was upset that the Prime Minister had misspelt her son’s name in a handwritten letter of condolence. One of the national papers decided to make a huge fuss over the issue and then went on to make a similar error on their own website. Needless to say an apology was swiftly issued.

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