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Editing Weblogs – Dave Winer gives an online tutorial

By October 3, 2003websites

Update: I’m going to leave the post below even though it is based on what I have learned was a mistaken assumption on my part that Dave had changed his post during the day. I think the question of whether posts should be edited in significant ways (without notice to the reader) is an important question. My mistake doesn’t make that question go away. And while it is possible that Dave’s freely given admission that he edits his posts without notice contributed to my mistake, I’m going to simply apologize for the mistake and agree that I could have discovered it if I had been more diligent. That said, I invite you to read Dave Winer’s comment and my response, along with the observations of others readers that follow this post in the comments section. Thanks.

Yesterday I asked, along with Rick Klau, when it is okay to edit your weblog in public? First off, I think it is a good idea to edit before you publish. “Editing” means examining your ideas closely and making sure that you are saying what you mean to say, and making sure that your thoughts won’t be misinterpreted. Today, in my news aggregator I saw that Dave Winer had posted these thoughts:

For the record, I believe in the power of editing. I practice it myself. I have an essay I’m working on today that I wrote two days ago but held up so I could edit it with a fresh perspective. What I don’t believe in, emphatically, is what comes after editing, and often is called editing — dumbing it down — the notion that some thoughts are too complicated for the audience. I quit the system that requires this kind of editing because, after editing, I was saying things I didn’t agree with. There’s no point writing for such a system, other than earning a paycheck. And they weren’t paying very much, not that that matters. At Harvard, at times, when it might appear that I’m speaking for the university, I have to be careful, and I always get approval for those things. But most of the time, “voice of the individual” applies. And unedited, to me, means you’re hearing what I think, not group-think

I disagreed with this description of ‘editing’ and I was going to link to it, but I found that the post no longer said what I quoted above (it was still in my news aggregator which is how I was able to copy it and post it). Obviously, Dave changed, er, edited what he said. Now his post says this:

NY Times: Online journalism comes of age. “But readers still rely heavily on professional editors from trusted news organizations to provide them with local, national and global context.” Heh, I wonder if one of the Times’ editors added that sentence? Seriously, when you read an article in a BigPub, don’t assume that the person whose name is on the article said or even believes what the article says. There’s a mechanism called Dumbing It Down or (more positively) Everyone Needs An Editor that keeps weird ideas out. No wonder people are doing it for themselves. Somehow the BP’s always miss this angle.

Perhaps Dave and others will see this differently, but the difference between these two posts suggests two things to me: (1) editing, whether done by the writer or someone else, is a good thing; and (2) editing is best done before one posts to something to the public, and not after. But, hey, that’s just one view.

Here’s another question that comes to mind after reading Dave’s two radically different posts: why have a ‘permalink’ to a post that has been radically changed? What’s the ‘perma’ part supposed to refer to? A permanent link to a place where editing is taking place? Frankly, I don’t understand Dave Winer.

Update: Apparently the 1st post by Dave Winer that I quoted above can be found here. (thanks to Stephen Bainbridge for pointing this out). I don’t know if he moved it or what happened, but as Rick Klau notes Dave admits that he edits his posts during the day.

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  • Jerry Lawson says:

    For some reason, the TypePad Trackback post wasn’t picked up, so here’s the URL for my assessment. It uses a comparison with the movie Bull Durham:

  • Dave Winer says:

    Not much of a mea culpa. First you attack me, get it wrong, then you go after a piece of software. The information was there, your facts are wrong, and haven’t been corrected. End of story.

    I’ve stated my editing policy over and over. Use Google, get some facts. Do you try cases this way? I mean, do you interview witnesses without at least doing *some* research beforehand.

    What a crock. I used to think you were a friend. This is sloppy. Skating on thin ice there Ernie.

  • Dave Winer says:

    Ernie, the second “version” you’re citing was written over two years ago. The post you originally cited is still there on Scripting News, and in the archive, at this location:

    I don’t know what you did, or how you got so confused, but you’re raising a pretty null issue, and it could have been resolved by simply looking at my site. Looks you need to issue a mea culpa here.

  • Beldar says:

    Point 4 of Rebecca Blood’s much-linked post regarding blogger ethics deals with this: “Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry.” Her commentary on this point is worth a read:

    Post deliberately. If you invest each entry with intent, you will ensure your personal and professional integrity.

    Changing or deleting entries destroys the integrity of the network. The Web is designed to be connected; indeed, the weblog permalink is an invitation for others to link. Anyone who comments on or cites a document on the Web relies on that document (or entry) to remain unchanged. A prominent addendum is the preferred way to correct any information anywhere on the Web. If an addendum is impractical, as in the case of an essay that contains numerous inaccuracies, changes must be noted with the date and a brief description of the nature of the change.

    If you think this is overly scrupulous, consider the case of the writer who points to an online document in support of an assertion. If this document changes or disappears–and especially if the change is not noted–her argument may be rendered nonsensical. Books do not change; journals are static. On paper, new versions are always denoted as such.

    The network of shared knowledge we are building will never be more than a novelty unless we protect its integrity by creating permanent records of our publications. The network benefits when even entries that are rendered irrelevant by changing circumstance are left as a historical record. As an example: A weblogger complains about inaccuracies in an online article; the writer corrects those inaccuracies (and notes them!); the weblogger’s entry is therefore meaningless–or is it? Deleting the entry somehow asserts that the whole incident simply didn’t happen–but it did. The record is more accurate and history is better served if the weblogger notes beneath the original entry that the writer has made the corrections and the article is now, to the weblogger’s knowledge, accurate.

    History can be rewritten, but it cannot be undone. Changing or deleting words is possible on the Web, but possibility does not always make good policy. Think before you publish and stand behind what you write. If you later decide you were wrong about something, make a note of it and move on.

    I make a point never to post anything I am not willing to stand behind even if I later disagree. I work to be thoughtful and accurate, no matter how angry or excited I am about a particular topic. If I change my opinion in a day or two, I just note the change. If I need to apologize for something I’ve said, I do so.

    If you discover that you have posted erroneous information, you must note this publicly on your weblog. Deleting the offending entry will do nothing to correct the misinformation your readers have already absorbed. Taking the additional step of adding a correction to the original entry will ensure that Google broadcasts accurate information into the future.

    The only exception to this rule is when you inadvertently reveal personal information about someone else. If you discover that you have violated a confidence or made an acquaintance uncomfortable by mentioning him, it is only fair to remove the offending entry altogether, but note that you have done so.

    I generally try to resist the urge to do substantial editing after posting, although I very frequently do some typo and spelling corrections without noting them. I feel fairly strongly, however, that if you change anything “substantive,” you ought to leave footprints showing that you’ve done so.

    I’m a sufficient fan of Ms. Blood’s “Weblog Ethics” that I run a permanent link to her post via a graphic on the bottom of my blog’s sidebar.

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