Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Editing for the Web: Limitless Restraint?

In a recent Poynter E-Media Tidbits on J-jobs, J-schools and the "Webified" reporter, Columbia Journalism adjunct A. Adam Glenn references a quote by Gannett executive Richard Leonard to support the "continuous news" model described by Sree Sreenivasan:

"We now write for the web and edit for print," Leonard said.

Something about this line struck me as very off-putting.

On first read, it can be read as support to the growing importance of "Web Media" (as opposed to new media - when does it stop being 'new'?). But on second read, I took it to mean that print has extreme space restraints, whereas the web can be an unedited realm of journalistic excess.

Now I doubt this is what Leonard intended, but it makes me think about the standards that the web should uphold for journalistic endeavors. And to me, that means that just because each gigabyte is mere pennies doesn't mean they must serve as a catch-all for long, unedited journalism.

In fact, I will go so far as to say this: web editors might have it worse than print editors.

(Print editors, please don't burn me at the stake.)

Aside from the news cycle difference, the web editor must edit without space constraints. In other words, he or she is editing for quality only - and can't just use word count as a target finish line.

If you're editing a piece for only the web, when are you done? And if that piece was already in a print form, should it be longer online? To what extent?

I think this situation gives opportunity to show which editors can actually edit, and which ones can simply cut.

Again, I'm not saying that print editors don't work hard. Indeed they do, and sometimes space constraints are impossibly (impossibly, impossibly) hard to adhere to. What I am saying, however, is that the web editor is bringing editing back to focus more on quality than length.

Of course, the web provides its own set of self-imposed space constraints, but none so physical as newsprint.

I would enjoy seeing the difference in how one print editor and one web editor edit the same piece. That said, is there a different approach to editing for the web? And is it being taught in J-schools?

This I don't know. But I'd sure like to know what you think. Comment below!

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