Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Oh My (Toward a new editing model?)

Robb Montgomery has posted over at the World Editors Forum some notes from his visit to Oh My News, Korea's massive citizen journalism venture.

There'a a lot to be intrigued about in this post, including this:

June 1 (Today!) he has updated his site to include participatory EDITING and RANKING as well.

New definition: Massively distributed collaborative editorial participation on the web

Think = OHMYNEWS + WikiNews . . . Hmmm - very smart guy.

So - readers today have a choice between a version of the reports edited by the professional-trained OH My editing staff OR a version of the site where stories are being ranked (by aggregate vote) by readers.

Newspapers and those embarking on citizen journalism projects should consider closely the implications. I've tooled around the site, and the rankings are useful. So are the comments, such as the long list on an article about the Korean War. Looking at the page, there is a "modify" button. I clicked on it just to see, and it appears the modification comes through your being able to e-mail back to the author any suggested changes (and attached files). A password blank also comes up to be filled in. So it does not seem to be quite like Wikipedia, which allows more direct modification. Also, I don't think Montgomery has it totally right because I didn't see different versions of the same article, nor did I see a "modify" button on the edited versions (though I apologize if that's an oversight).

Still, news Web sites could take a lot from Oh My News. The listing of recent articles and sublisting of related articles, with comment numbers and rankings, at the bottom of each page would be a great way for many people to "index" their news.

But in that same post by Montgomery is something that should catch editors' attention:

"Straight news is not the standard." Writing craft is not as important as the news value or opinions of the contributors. Most reports are essays, columns, opinions, facts, alerts, reviews and criticism.
"Writing craft is not as important ..." Those words should send a chill down editors' spines. Writing craft is important. Some of the posts on Oh My News lost their effectiveness for me because of the errors, run-on sentences, convoluted structure that was hard to read, etc.

But if you listen closely, the "writing craft is not as important" can be heard repeatedly in the winds of change blowing in. For editors to ignore that would be a mistake. And the hand-wringing at or after editors' gatherings, such as the recent ACES conference, does no good and is likely counterproductive. The "editing is evil" forces are many, with many different motives, and they are arrayed and ready to do battle armed with this change in attitude.

Which means editing must change.

I continue to struggle with how editing reshapes itself. But I am convinced that the too-often top-down editing practiced at many publications (and born of necessity out of the assembly line conditions under which most publications operated in the 20th century), is where the change must happen if editing is to preserve its intrinsic value. As I've written before, editing in this new world where news flows change and intermingle with citizen journalism, where "writing craft" is judged against "news value or opinions," must shift to a more collaborative model where the writer retains control of his or her work.

Yes, we talk about that model -- whole books have been written on it under the term coaching -- and each day in thousands of newsrooms there are glimmers of it. But in reality it is rarely practiced under even the slightest deadline pressure, except for projects and some special stories. It is the exception, not the culture. And copy editors, as they are the neck of the bottle for the story flow in most newsrooms, become the icon for all that the critics see is wrong.

Copy editing, and line editing, must not die. But they must change.

I was thinking of how this might apply to a robust site like Oh My News. What about an "editing help" button on the posting page? You want your copy to read better and, I would argue, be more influential as a result? Your choice; submit it to an editor. For free? I don't know. Maybe you pay a little bit through PayPal ($1 a shot?). Maybe the privilege of calling on an editor only goes to those with a "premium" subscription. Lots of questions.

That editor can edit the copy to the level you select: style/grammar, structure, full-blown everything including fact. Then, here's the difference. The editor does not file that copy, unless you've decided you want it that way. Instead, it comes back to you for your approval and filing.

Never work in a "modern" newsroom, you say? Perhaps it has to work, or be worked out, or we become irrelevant. Maybe it won't be exactly like that, but already some small steps are being made in that direction in Detroit for instance.

Or perhaps what I'm suggesting is so much claptrap in your eyes. Fine. Let's talk about other directions to go. But I've spent a lot of time in the woods, and I can hear it in the leaves. The wind is telling me, change, or become irrelevant.


At 7/14/05, 1:03 AM, Anonymous Robb Montgomery said...

Yes - I tried to pick up on the provocative points of the OhMyNews presentation Jean gave.

The writing craft quote from them at first took me back but -you know what - what they were saying is that the writing craft is less important to the consumers of the ohmynews than the timeliness and uniqueness of the contributions. Not that great writing is not valued.

Some of the things they believe and are practicing are revolutionary. I never saw a demo of the participatory element - they broke to us visiting journos on the spot.

At 7/14/05, 10:50 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks for the further information.


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