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April 24, 2005
After the Fall
There are many important lessons to be had from the mistake I made last week. (The expulsion from Eden is a detail of the Sistine Chapel. The file comes courtesy the Web Art Gallery.)
I'm going to divide this into lessons to bloggers (including myself) and lessons applicable to site managers or editors. And there's a special section at the end just for you.
Let the scourging begin!
- You can't erase it. Once it's published, the RSS feed goes out. Remember Ollie North's Clue from 20 years ago -- hitting delete doesn't mean it's deleted. Make your corrections on the item itself, at the top.
- What's your hurry? Unless you're competing with CNN, get it right first. This is especially true when your value-add is analysis.
- It's a wide wonderful Web out there. Use it. Check your facts and insert the links into the piece.
- Check the dates on the facts you check. There are still many pages out there identifying Evan Williams as being head of Blogger. This doesn't make them right now, even if they were right at the time.
- You can lose years worth of credibility on one moment of stupidity. That's not fair, but those are the facts. Everyone who likes you will tell one friend. Everyone who hates you will tell 10.
- Be especially careful when going outside your comfort zone, the beat you actually cover. Double-check everything, and try to get a source. E-mail is easy. The phones still work.
- Assume everything you write will be read by someone who neither likes you nor trusts you, and act accordingly.
The lessons for editors are especially important, because it's a new job. Editing is what turns blogs into journalism, and a lot can be done after the fact.
Michelangelo could only imagine Hylton with a beard, but I think I put the gray there. From CalPoly.
- There's no time for analysis. Every minute of indecision is another minute of damage. Either be ready to make a decision 24-7 or appoint someone else to do it.
- Create a process by which these decisions can be revisited. Maybe you'll find you over-reacted. Maybe you'll find you weren't firm enough. They'll be time enough for counting when the dealing's done.
- Communicate. Get with the person who made the mistake right away, and get with your readers right away.
- Transparency is key. The more open and available your process is, the more trust you will gain from it.
- Credibility is the coin of the realm. Every mistake, by anyone, is a huge withdrawal from the corporate credibility account. The faster you accept the hit the faster the withdrawals stop.
There are also lessons here for readers and the Web:
- This isn't high school. There's no need to act like it is.
- The difference between blogging and journalism lies in how mistakes are dealt with.
- If you're unsure about what you're reading, use the links in the story to verify the words. No links? Trouble.
- The more sources you have on a story -- the more you trust the whole blogosphere rather than any one person in it -- the more likely you are to get the truth.
- You're not perfect, either. Try a kind e-mail if you see something wrong. Or a quick comment.
- The IN in Internet is short for INtimate. There are people behind every screen on the Web. And many of them want to hear from you.
Long story short, you're a part of the process. That's what can make blogging better than journalism. It's open source and transparent. So please feel free to add your own rules, to criticize those I've written, and (if you like) to dump on me further.
The last is part of my healing process. I'll appreciate it.
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