Blogging Etiquette: Corrections and Updates
A drive-by commenter on yesterday’s post about the Sarah Palin wristband faux controversy offered, “If you had any honor you would take the post down.” Aside from the fact that the original post didn’t say what she apparently thought it had and I had supplied three updates further clarifying the situation, I informed her that, “One doesn’t take posts down, one corrects any errors.”
Coincidentally, Joy McCann (aka Little Miss Attila) had up a post detailing the blogging guidelines and ethical concerns she’d encountered over the years, noting,
After you’ve posted something, editing should be limited to fixing typos, smoothing out the grammar, and modifying an egregious word choice. Be careful in doing this: once someone quotes your entry somewhere, you’re going to look like an idiot if you’ve edited the passage or the sentence they quote. The most conservative, safe way to edit—and one that you’ll want to use if you find an actual inaccuracy—is to leave the incorrect text there, but crossed out, while adding the new, correct text.
Then, if the error is non-minor, you’ll probably want to place an UPDATE notice at the end, explaining what you did. (For a long entry, or one that’s getting a lot of traffic, you may want to place an UPDATE notice in the headline, so that people will know that there is new information in it.)
Stacy McCain, a career journalist and more recent convert to blogging, demurs.
There is an old adage among English teachers: “Writing is re-writing.” Having learned my craft in the Old School newspaper environment, I’m a bit at odds with the blogger concept that the first draft — the version of the post as it existed when you initially hit the “publish” button — must be preserved inviolate.
My habit is to publish, read over it on the page and then correct typos, etc. I’m thankful for commenters who point out errors, but I seldom acknowledge either the error or its correction in the text of the post, simply because it detracts from the reading experience. The comment pointing out the error remains as acknowledgement of the correction.
My practices on this front have evolved over the years toward something akin to Stacy’s view. Because blogging rewards fast responses, I frequently have minor errors in a piece when it’s published and feel perfectly free to tweak and add to it. This is especially true of “Breaking News” stories. Indeed, when occasion takes me back to archival pieces — sometimes weeks, if not months or years, old — I’ll frequently clean up sentences that were poorly worded, fix spelling errors, and the like.
My rationale is pretty much the same as Stacy’s, too: My object is to present the clearest expression of my thoughts to the reader, not document the writing process. Not only is the latter messy and potentially confusing, almost nobody will care about it.
The exception to this rule is that, for the most part, I’ll acknowledge major errors in fact in the original — either by bracketing the correction inline, using an asterisk or footnote, or appending an UPDATE at the bottom. This is especially true if a commenter or another blogger points out the error.
The etiquette of blogging is that one doesn’t bury one’s errors but rather admits them. (This convention is generally not followed by mainstream media websites. The AP is especially egregious on this front, constantly rewriting stories and changing facts without acknowledgment of that fact.) But the point of this tradition is transparency about facts, not creating a paper trail of minor spelling errors.