Overtaken By Events: When Good Posts Go Bad

Dave Taylor and Amy Gahran are thinking about how and to what extent bloggers should edit or update blog posts when subsequent events cause the posts to be incomplete or inaccurate. Dave call this OBE, or overtaken by events.

Dave uses a timely example- yesterday’s news that the blogosphere’s favorite whack-job, John Karr, did not kill JonBenet Ramsey. Granted, it was obvious to many that he was very likely lying just to get attention long before yesterday. But at first the breaking story sounded promising. Dave wrote an early post about it that was later picked up by a newspaper. Once it was clear that Karr was not going to be charged, the question became what to do about the original post.

The accuracy of original posts is important, since many older posts continue to draw get traffic thanks to inbound links and search results. For example, my post on deed copy scams still gets a lot of traffic because of its place in search results.

Dave suggests adding an update to the bottom of the original post, with a link to a newspaper article or other content explaining the new developments. Amy reminds us that the blog’s feed will pick up the edit and republish the original post and suggests that to make it easier for your feed readers you put the update at the top. Everyone agrees that the changes should be made via an “Update” with an explanation, and not by simply editing the post to correct the content.

I think it’s a very good idea to edit stories that are still ripe, much the way Dave suggests. While I understand the logic behind Amy’s suggestion to put the Update at the top of the post, I think most people are conditioned to expect an update when an old post it republished in a feed. When I see a post for the second time, I scan down the page for an update. If I don’t see one, I assume it was a feed glitch or merely an edit to correct a typo (like I did yesterday when I was embarrassed to notice that I have been spelling Hugh‘s last name wrong).

I agree with Amy that traditional news stories are not as cast in stone as they might have appeared in the past. This blurring of the line between traditional and distributed media will continue as more and more old media embraces blogging, both as a platform and method of distribution. As such, I agree that traditional news stories, at least the online variety, should be updated as circumstances dictate and retitled as “Updated:” when republished. At a minimum, news stories, both the online and print versions, should have a list of edits at the bottom, ideally with a brief explanation.

It is harder to keep up with older posts, that are no longer ripe. In fact, when I look through my old archives, I often come across posts that I don’t remember writing. In those cases, I rely on the publication date and the intervening time period to lead the reader to understand that the article, while hopefully accurate when written, has been affected by subsequent events.

In order to promote and encourage the acceptance of distributed media, there needs to be some sort of de facto standard for editing and updating articles.

I’m glad people are thinking about it.