Is online news content the ugly stepchild of print?

This recent tweet got me thinking.  It’s far from the first time I’ve seen online content looking less than perfect.  Weird or incorrect spacing, strange uses of CAPS and boldface and of course spelling and punctuation mistakes are all too common online.  

Why is it sometimes painfully obvious that major print or broadcasting organizations couldn’t give a fig about how their content looks online?  Is it because the online incarnation is an afterthought?  Is it because it’s viewed as having less longevity?  I mean, if yesterday’s newspapers are today’s fish wrap, then is this morning’s online news story tonight’s distant memory?  

Worse yet, is it because the online product is viewed as being less important because it doesn’t bring in the dollars like the print product does?  I certainly hope that’s not it.  After all, parenting doesn’t pay from what I understand (in fact it costs) and that reality does nothing to diminish the job’s importance.


  1. Anonymous June 30, 2009

    One of the things I’ve found working on the online side is that print journalists are used to filing their piece and being done with it — and that doesn’t change when their content goes online.

    On the print side, the writer doesn’t see the piece again until it’s been through a copy editor or two and then paginated, where yet another set of eyes may catch errors — and that’s assuming the writer even looks at the paper the next day.

    Online, the copy is rarely subject to even one layer of copy editing, and the writer will almost never go back to look at his or her blog post to see if there’s weird formatting or spacing, or if some bad code entirely blew out a template.

    It’s just the way things are right now — and hopefully as more attention is turned online (as newshole shrinks and writers look for a way to get more than six inches for a story that deserves it), that thinking will change.

  2. Anna Tarkov June 30, 2009

    Definitely need an explanation on that last bit. Newshole? You lost me :-/

  3. Anonymous June 30, 2009

    hey Anna! good question (and I think josh is basically agreeing with you that it’s messed-up situation).

    Over here in nonprofit-land there’s been some interesting posts making the comparison between “on line” and “on land” (see “Connection Between Online and On Land” Allison Fine, blogger and author of the recent book “Momentum”).

    Allison’s point — and you probably hear this all the time, too–is that folks are saying constantly “I don’t want to do all that social media stuff. If I want to talk with someone I’lll pick up the phone or go see them” etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Right? But it’s not actually supposed to be either/or — now, whether you’re a harried reporter or a harried nonprofit person or just a harried human being you kinda are expected to do both.

    But expanding on that online/onland thang, I think the secret to different standards online and on tomorrow’s fish-wrap is, we tend still to see these as two separate places, even though we actually need to take them both equally seriously and learn better how they integrate.

    That brings up method and workflow problems in newsrooms (the bigger the newsroom, I imagine, the bigger the problem). So yeah, let’s hope they’re not slamming the electronic copy around too loosely. And (afterthought) of course one reason i think many of us have been attracted to messing around online in the first place (anyway, those of us who are let’s say a little older) was the informality it allows … which might let some laxity slide in where it don’t, uh doesn’t, belong.

  4. Anna Tarkov July 1, 2009

    Fascinating! Other “older” folks, chime in. Are you drawn online for the informality it allows?

  5. Anonymous August 10, 2010

    I think it’s a case of less eyes going on content before it publishes & also demand of online to be fast. Doesn’t make it right because it’s not. Totally not acceptable and greater care needs to be taken.

  6. Anna Tarkov August 10, 2010

    Craig, that’s all true and, like you said, also not an excuse. In fact, it’s just another bit of ammunition for those that proclaim the superiority of print. If content online is badly edited, spelled, etc., then it’s easier to dismiss it. This doesn’t even get at the issue of fact-checking. And here I’m talking about traditional media outlets, not bloggers! I’ve heard about the storied fact-checking done at magazines for example and how that’s going away. So you can only imagine how poorly stories are fact-checked and copy-edited at newspapers. As we all know, facts matter. Even small ones:

  7. bartona August 10, 2010

    This problem is especially bad in broadcasting, where our “copy” was not, until fairly recently, actually seen by the audience. I proofread the website of a national program that wanted to increase its Web footprint (of course). But copy editing was a throwaway duty that wasn’t supposed to take too much of my time. Instead, it took ages because the copy was so atrocious; mocking comments would be piling up on the site while I was trying to get it all fixed. Still, only the Web staff and I really cared. In fact, my editor tried to console me one day by whispering: “Nobody cares!”

    “Yeah, I know,” I said. “Except the readers.”

    Web copy is forever; broadcast is fleeting. It’s just really hard to handle both concepts without dedicated staff. Broadcasters have never needed copy editors before, and I don’t really see them getting hip to the idea any time soon. The price of embarrassment is not nearly equal the price of another salary for them.

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