The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Category: Web editing

Q&A with Monica Monzingo of

Monica Monzingo is a copy editor for, a position she has held since 2012. She previously worked in the magazine industry as a freelancer. In this interview, conducted by email, Monzingo discusses her job and how editing for a department stores is different from editing for a news organization.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do on a typical day?

A. I copy edit a wide variety of creative assets for, including homepages, emails, gift guides, social media and navigation copy (the links on the top and left-hand side of the site). Also, most of the brands we sell create their own content for their landing pages on, so I’m responsible for proofreading those too. While copyediting and watching for consistency in style and brand voice, I’m also making sure the copy complies with our legal guidelines.

On a typical day, I might review the desktop and mobile versions of the new prom sitelet, read through the exclusions copy for an upcoming Super Saturday sale, and copyedit a buying guide about cutlery.

Q. You previously worked as a freelance editor for magazines such as US Weekly. How is editing for different from your magazine editing?

A. At a magazine, you’re selling the journalism — the content is the commodity. But in retail, you’re selling the clothes, furniture, etc., so your relationship with the reader is slightly different. We want the reader to engage with our content, just like a magazine, but we also want to motivate them to go a step further and BUY what’s featured in the content.

We have a lot of the same conversations about truth and clarity that editors at a magazine have, but the response we want from our reader is a bit different so our approach to writing and editing is a bit different too. Have we given them all the information they need so that they’ll buy that new bathing suit, knowing it’s perfect for their body type? Are our financing terms clear enough that they’ll feel comfortable buying a big-ticket item like an engagement ring or a new sofa?

Q. You recently attended the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. What did you learn there, and what drew you to ACES?

A. I learned about Google’s new algorithm and how we can update our SEO strategy to align with its new priorities. I learned that editing is a left-brain activity while computer work is a right-brain activity, and that’s why it’s always good to review things on a printout instead of just on screen. And I went to a session about writing headlines and have tons of tips the writers here at can use when writing email subject lines.

ACES is a fantastic community of super-smart, super-friendly folks who share a passion for editing, and it was so inspiring to get to spend a few days nerding out about style guides and grammar. I was originally drawn to ACES as a learning resource, which it certainly is, but the most rewarding thing has been finding a community of like-minded editors.

Q. What advice do you have for students seeking jobs and internships in editing for a company like Macy’s?

A. I’d recommend learning about what’s going on in the industry. I’m a big fan of the National Retail Federation’s SmartBrief, a daily email digest of the industry’s top stories.

You can also learn a lot just by paying more attention to what’s going on when you’re shopping on your favorite website or in your favorite store. Develop an ear for brand voice and learn how to both describe and write in different voices. And as a copy editor, a huge thing to practice is how to give feedback in a clear but kind way.

Where to find copyright-free photos

The photo service Getty Images made big news this week it said that it would unleash millions of images free of charge.

It put some qualifiers on that, saying that the use had to be for noncommercial purposes and that bloggers and journalists need to embed the photos in a way to give Getty credit. You can see examples of how this looks in this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Getty isn’t the only place to find free images. I’ve used Creative Commons on occasion, and this semester, the Park Library at UNC-Chapel Hill posted a page of handy links to sites offering free stock photos, archive images and logos. Thanks to librarian Stephanie Willen Brown for putting that in one place.

Stock images can bring visual flair to a story in print and online. They can also be abused. Not every story or post needs an image, but many do. My advice: choose wisely and give credit where it’s due.

Q&A with John Conway, general manager of

John Conway is general manager of in Raleigh, N.C. Before making the move to online journalism in the 1990s, he worked as a reporter at newspapers in Greensboro, N.C., and Orlando, Fla. In this interview, conducted by email, Conway discusses the recent overhaul in WRAL’s digital operations.

Q. Why is WRAL redesigning its website?

A. It has been seven years since the last major redesign of, and a lot has changed in that time. Web technologies have changed, connection speeds have increased, and content consumption patterns have changed. There also has been a proliferation of new devices (tablets, “phablets” and phones) in a dizzying array of sizes.

We had been following some of the early adopters of responsive design, most notably The Boston Globe. We saw a lot of merit in a build-once strategy that works on all current devices, as well as ones that have yet to be sold. It is important that users of our site have the best possible experience of our content and advertising, regardless of how they are accessing it.

So in 2012, we committed to launching a responsive redesign of in late 2013/early 2014, and we did that. We launched an internal beta version in early December and a public beta in mid-December.

Q. What are some of the major changes, and what has been the reaction from readers?

A. We wanted to create a world-class user experience across platforms — desktop, tablet and mobile. That started with a close look at our analytics to see what content was most popular. We also did heat-map testing to see where users focus on key pages as they are browsing. That helped inform changes to our navigation, which we streamlined.

Another key goal was to declutter the site, especially the homepage. So one of the first things you notice is more white space.

We also wanted to get more content above the fold. We did that by adopting a three-column design for desktop users, along with introducing what we call the “mega menu.”  The large drop-down menu allows users to preview content throughout the site. Discoverability of content is a key challenge for content-rich sites like ours, and we think the mega menu will help visitors find our best stories, video, photos and special features.

Users will notice other trends, such as the use of larger photos on section fronts and story pages, in-line video at the top of stories and a persistent toolbar for sharing, commenting and controlling fonts.

We also worked a lot on making pages load faster. That was tricky because of all the Javascript needed for the responsive design, but our technology team did a nice job of compressing and optimizing the code.

We also added an Amazon-like recommendations engine that is based on the reading patterns of individual users. If you read, for example, a lot of UNC and business stories, you will see more of those stories in the Recommended feed in the right column of most pages.

I have been through five site launches and redesigns at, and the reaction to this redesign has been fairly consistent with others. Some people love it; others prefer the old design. We’ve heard from people who like our cleaner, more modern design. Many have said that the site is easy to navigate. We’ve also heard from those who say why fix what isn’t broken.

We understand that change can be difficult, especially for heavy, loyal users who have grown accustomed over seven years to accessing content in a very particular way. That’s why we developed a number of tools to help frequent visitors make the transition. Those tools include a new Help Center and a guided, interactive tour of the new features, plus a video tutorial and blog posts.

Q. News and information are increasingly going mobile. What is WRAL’s approach to attract readers who use tablets and smartphones?

A. The responsive design is a key element of our mobile strategy. We think users should have a choice when accessing our content on mobile devices.

They can have a great experience of the rich site on the device of their choice, or they can opt for a tailored experience from one of our mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. (We have a news app, iPad-only app, weather forecast app, severe weather app, high school sports app, local entertainment app and an arrest photos app.)

With a surge in mobile search, it is important to lead users seamlessly from mobile search results to the mobile-optimized content. And now virtually our entire archive since 1996 will look good on any device. No more squinting or pinch zooming required.

Q. The Triangle region of North Carolina is a competitive market for news, including The News & Observer and WTVD. How does WRAL’s digital efforts compare with other news organizations?

A. We have strong local competitors. And increasingly, strong national pure plays are trying to make inroads in local markets. So we have to be on top of our game at all times.

Our competitors are increasing their investments in digital, which is leveling the playing field. That’s why we have beefed up our editorial, marketing, technology and sales staffs. It’s why we have one of the few local TV sites in the country with an investigative reporter and database researcher/reporter focused on digital content. It’s why we hired former ECU coach Steve Logan and former newspaper sports columnist Caulton Tudor to contribute to our sports properties (TV radio and Web).

As for how we stack up, media measurement firms such as Scarborough and The Media Audit show us having 2x to 3x leads over our nearest competitors. The Media Audit’s latest survey of the Raleigh-Durham market showed that 54 percent of adults visit at least once a month. Only one other local media outlet in the country had a higher penetration rate.

Q. Journalism is in a era of transition and disruption. How can today’s journalism students best prepare themselves for what’s ahead?

A. It used to be that strong reporting, writing and editing skills were all that mattered for writing and editing positions on the Web. Today, we’re looking for applicants who are more than one dimensional.

We still want those strong writing skills, but we also benefit from applicants who can shoot and edit photos and video, create interactive graphics or manage multiple social media accounts. Some experience analyzing data is useful. And while you are juggling all of those tasks, we need you to be accurate and fast.

Q&A with Rylan Miller of Business Insider

Rylan Miller is Contributors Editor at Business Insider. In this interview, conducted by email, she talks about her job and how the site uses headlines and social media to attract readers.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like at Business Insider?

A. I manage all of BI’s syndication partnerships and guest writers, which is an editorial job with some elements of business development mixed in.

My team has three main responsibilities:

  • We help choose the stories we will publish from our 370-ish partner publications, wire services, and blogs;
  • We package these stories so that they fit perfectly with Business Insider’s style;
  • And we act as the gatekeepers — I like to envision Gandalf shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” when I say this — of every article that is republished on the site.

We ensure that editorial is following all of the partnership rules and industry courtesies when syndicating.

This job has a lot of moving parts, but for me, that’s part of what keeps it interesting. Some days I spend a lot of time talking to our point people at companies like Slate, Condé Nast, Wenner Media, and more. Sometimes I focus on teaching our editorial team what syndication is and how to do it the right way.

Other days I like to dive into setting up posts, which means formatting them so that they look great on BI, writing catchy headlines, and picking photos that really pop on the main page. Sometimes I tinker with formatting in our CMS, and I frequently study our analytics.

I have learned more about the world of online publishing from this one job than I ever thought possible. It’s really a fascinating mix of journalism, psychology, business, and management, and perfect for a generalist like me. It’s fun to know what’s happening in just about every section of the site, and — important job perk — people want you on their team for bar trivia.

Q. Headline writing for digital media is seeing a shift from SEO to “shareability,” as demonstrated by sites like Upworthy. What is Business Insider’s approach to headline writing?

A. One of our editor’s mantras is that headlines should “get clicks without being annoying.” It’s very easy to tease someone into reading a story online—I’m sure we’ve all fallen for the “7 Things That Will Completely Change Your Life” headline at some point.

But when you actually read the article and see that the headline is hyperbole, skewed, or a flat-out lie, you start to resent that publication. I think BI does a great job of getting people interested while also delivering a great story.

As a site that does breaking news, features, photo-centric slideshows, videos, syndication, and now longform, there really isn’t a magic formula for how we write headlines. Above all, we consider the reader and what he or she should know immediately before we think about SEO and “shareability.”

If a headline isn’t working for us, we can change it. The priority is still focusing on writing (or in my case, choosing) excellent stories that are worth sharing in the first place, and then pulling out the most interesting nugget or angle for the headline.

Q. Business Insider is active on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. What is the organization’s social media strategy?

A. Every single person on editorial puts in effort when it comes to our social media policies and strategies. Each section is responsible for maintaining and expanding their own Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and relationship with LinkedIn if it’s relevant. They also have to make sure their best work gets pushed out to BI’s main Twitter and Facebook accounts. We have a small bit of oversight at the top of this chain, but for the most part we rely on common sense and good news judgment when deciding what gets shared.

We’re constantly assessing what’s working and what’s not when it comes to our social media strategies, and I think that’s served us well so far. Everyone gets a chance to put in their two cents.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012. What’s the most important thing you learned there, and what have you had to learn on the job after college?

A. As someone who’s not in a traditional journalism job at a 100 percent digital news outlet, I’m surprised every day by how much of what I learned at j-school is still relevant to what I’m doing now. I’ve realized how important it is to have that solid foundation in place before learning new skills on the job.

Copy-editing classes taught me how to be nitpicky (in a good way) while reading through articles. My business journalism classes taught me basically everything I know about the industry I’m in now. Media law gave me a good understanding of where we can get photos, who holds copyright on freelance stories, and how to not get my employer sued for dumb mistakes.

I also cannot overstate how much I’ve learned on the job. I’d say most of what I’ve learned is in the technical and strategic aspects of how a news website functions. I’ve learned how publishers can work with each other to expand and improve, and I’m continually discovering what people feel compelled to read. Despite what you’re hearing, people aren’t solely interested in “reading” GIFs. And finally, I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Serial Comma And All-Caps Headline.

Follow Rylan Miller on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn. If you want to become a contributing writer for Business Insider, check out the Contributors FAQ or email for more information.

Q&A with Claire Campbell, director of digital strategy at WTVD

Claire Campbell is director of digital strategy and audience development at WTVD, the ABC station in the Triangle region of North Carolina. She has also worked as an editor at Yahoo, and IMDB. In this interview, Campbell discusses her job at ABC 11, the station’s online presence and the skills needed to work in digital news.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do at WTVD?

A. My job is to help expand the station’s digital reach and engagement — via our website, our mobile apps, social media and other initiatives. I work closely with our News and Creative Services teams to make sure that our broadcast and digital processes are as integrated as possible.

Fortunately, we have a great team that really understands the importance of digital — reporters out at the scene of breaking news know that one of their first responsibilities is to tweet photos or videos that we can use online, for example.

I’m also constantly analyzing our metrics to see which of our efforts are most successful and brainstorming new ways to connect with users. That’s the most exciting part of my job: planning for the future, trying to imagine what form our work could take as the media landscape keeps evolving.

There’s also a lot of nuts-and-bolts work, of course, like implementing digital ad campaigns or building special pages to support our projects in the community. I should say too that I’m only two months into this role, so I’m sure I will continue discovering new aspects of it.

Q. You previously worked as a news editor at Yahoo and an editor at How is your current job different from those, and how do they inform what you do now?

A. The most obvious difference is scale — the other sites were national, and ABC11 has a strong local focus (which I appreciate; one of the reasons I wanted to make this move is that I’d lived in the Triangle for 6+ years but never felt fully part of what was happening here).

There are cultural differences, too; the broadcast world is a little more formal, and relies on face time and phone calls and email instead of Skype/IM (I haven’t used the word “ping” since I started here).

There’s also a strong sense of community and loyalty at the station. Some people have worked there for decades — longer than most of the companies I’ve worked for have existed.

What I call on most often from my time at About is an understanding of SEO and how to plan around what users are looking for online; from Yahoo, it’s the sense of how to pull readers in and create a dynamic conversation around a story.

Q. Another TV station, WRAL, has the dominant website in the Triangle area of North Carolina. How does WTVD stack up with it and the digital presence of the regional daily newspaper, The News & Observer?

The first thing I’d say is that WRAL may not be quite as dominant as many people think.

We’re lucky to have a very active and engaged audience base at ABC11 — on our website but even more so in our mobile apps. And we do a lot with a relatively small digital staff.

That said, we know there’s more we can do to serve our users in the digital space, and we’re hard at work on building an even bigger and better digital experience.

Q. You recently contacted the journalism school at UNC about some internship and job opportunities. How can students best prepare themselves to work at organizations like yours?

A. Become versatile storytellers. Learn to work in different media and different registers (both formal and conversational). Master the fundamentals but then challenge yourself to approach stories in a new way. And take advantage of any opportunity that will expose you to new platforms or skills.

I think one of the best exercises journalism students can do is to take a single story and make it work as an article, a blog, a video, a podcast, an infographic, etc. The more readily you can shift modes, the more prepared you’ll be for whatever journalism looks like when you’re out of school.

Telling the flowing story of the Colorado River

Since 2009, the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill has been a part of the News21 initiative, which explores new ways to report, edit and present news and information.

Students at UNC have focused their coverage on energy and the environment. They have told stories about coal and water, among other topics. Their work has won a slew of awards, and the 2012 edition has been nominated for an Emmy.

This year’s project, Over Water Under Fire, is more narrowly focused, examining the role of the Colorado River. Using text and graphics, the site offers insights to the river’s history as a source of water and energy. Intertwined with that presentation is a video story about veterans rafting down the river as part of their recovery from PTSD.

Congratulations to this year’s Powering A Nation team on a powerful and compelling project. I encourage everyone to spend some time with the site and to take a look the project’s blog to see how it came together.

Q&A with Sapna Maheshwari of BuzzFeed

Sapna Maheshwari is a business reporter for BuzzFeed. Prior to that job, she worked at Bloomberg News. In this interview, conducted by email, Maheshwari discusses her beat, her recent career transition and BuzzFeed’s new business section.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. My job is to write about retail for BuzzFeed’s new business news section. My typical workday is a lot like it used to be — reading analyst reports, talking with sources, contacting companies, reading filings and so on. I spend a bit more time on Twitter and other social networks than I used to, looking for information on the companies I cover in those spheres.

Q. Why is BuzzFeed, known for its animal photos and “listicles,” going into business journalism?

A. BuzzFeed has been expanding its news coverage for quite some time — especially in politics, where the team there has really made a name for itself.

Business news is a big part of the social conversation. Clearly, it’s something people care about and talk about. We’re a small team but think we can write smart scoops and analysis about business that people want to read and share.

For my beat, retail, it’s an obvious fit: writing about the businesses that people shop at and interact with on a daily basis. Our goal is for everything on the vertical to be funny or exclusive, and hopefully, we’re hitting that goal so far.

Q. You previously worked at Bloomberg News. What has it been like to go from the Bloomberg Way to BuzzFeed? What are the differences in reporting, writing and editing?

A. It’s very different. At Bloomberg, the writing was more formulaic, and my audience was typically investors or traders, except when I was writing feature-type stories for Businessweek. I also had more editors, and the fact-checking was more rigorous. I had to put in a ticket to get a photo attached to a story.

Here at BuzzFeed, it’s obviously a smaller operation. I can put together the posts myself, and it goes out much quicker. We’re also not writing up earnings stories and stock moves, so I can spend more time reporting and researching.

That said, the reporting itself is largely similar, but I have less data at my fingertips without a Bloomberg terminal. Working at Bloomberg for so long definitely made me a fair and careful reporter, though, and I’m so glad I started my career there.

Q. You graduated from the UNC School of Journalism in 2009. What is the most important thing you learned there, and what new skills have you had to pick up since college?

A. Wow, hard to pick out the most important thing I learned at the j-school. I’m definitely extra careful with facts and spelling thanks to my classes there.

I think one of the most important things I took away was from my business and the media class — learning about the role of PR in business journalism and how the two fields can work together despite often having different goals. I have always kept to the rule that a story shouldn’t be a “surprise” for a company and that transparency from my end goes a long way in building trust with them. Having so many friends that went the PR route in the j-school reinforced that for me.

As far as new skills, I’ve gotten more adept with company filings and using social networking tools to find sources for stories. I also became a bit of a pro on the Bloomberg terminal after working on one for 3.5 years!

Follow Sapna Maheshwari on Twitter and read her articles on BuzzFeed.

Q&A with Kirk Ross of The Carolina Mercury

Kirk Ross is editor of The Carolina Mercury, a website that focuses on North Carolina news, issues and politics, including the state’s General Assembly. In this interview, conducted by email, Ross talks about the site, his job and online and print journalism.

Q. What is the purpose of The Carolina Mercury as a self-described “filtered aggregator of news with occasional bits of analysis”?

A. Eventually, we want the Mercury to be a mix of longer essays, visual elements (slideshows, video) as well as the shorter posts were doing these days to clue folks about issues and news events. Right now, we’re just trying to keep up with a news cycle that’s in hyperdrive because of the legislative session, so most of our posts are in the shorter style.

I think one of the big problems with aggregators, both the automatic ones and the human-initiated kind, is that they give you little or no context. My favorite new phrase for what we’re trying to do with our shorter posts is “curated aggregation,” and it means not just a link and a pull quote, but adding a reason why the story is important and giving the reader some context by noting previous, related stories as well as doing some taxonomy work.

For the various news feeds and Twitter feeds on the site, we’ve actually done some filtering. The Twitter feeds on the site monitor a mix of individuals, organizations and hashtags. The #NCGA (North Carolina General Assembly) and #NCPOL hashtags can occasionally be dominated by trolls, junk posts and people who keep writing tweet after tweet hyping some ideological view, so we’ve got those tweets filtered out to make the feed a better information tool.

Q. What is your role at the Mercury, and what is your job like from day to day?

A. Like I said, right now it’s a madhouse keeping up with legislation and the General Assembly, so that dominates life at present. I’m covering the legislature for two news organizations, one in the mountains and one on the coast, and have two columns a month on public policy to write as well.

My day starts with seeing what bills have been filed or are on the calendar, reviewing them and letting folks know if there’s something significant coming. The volume is so great at times that it’s all triage.

I either drive to Raleigh or tune into the committee hearings and House and Senate session via the web and blog accordingly. I coordinate with Lucy Butcher, who is the other main reporter/editor at the Mercury, on things that are coming up or what’s breaking. It’s all fairly reactive, which is not my favorite mode to be in, but that’s the news business when things are, well, newsy.

After the session, things will change a bit. I’m going to drive around the state for a while looking for interesting stories that do not include the word “legislation.”

Q. What are some of the challenges of covering the General Assembly and state government in general?

A. Keeping calm and carrying on. No, seriously, that is a big part of it because a lot of important changes are being pushed through.

There’s a temptation to cover something because it is outrageous, but you have to have some discipline. You can’t let yourself get distracted by every crazy piece of legislation that comes along. You have to stay focused on what actually might become law.

The longer I’ve done this, the more I dislike politics and all the noise that comes with it. I much prefer a good policy tussle.

The hardest thing about the NCGA this session is that there are so many new members. More than half of legislators are in either their first or second term, and at times, it really shows. There’s such a rush to change things that there’s not a lot of time for legislators to really understand what policies are now and why they’re in place before being asked to change them.

The rest of state government in this era of supermajority is a strange beast. The addition of three times as many political appointees and years of worry about having one’s budget slashed has taken a toll.

Nobody wants to get on the radar screen, meaning no one wants to say anything to the press that could bring down some heat. There’s a lot of self-censorship, and I’m not seeing any headway on making things more transparent.

Q. The big question with digital media is financial. How can sites like the Mercury become economically viable?

A. Do good journalism. Break some stories. Don’t let the site meter run your life, or you’ll end up chasing celebrities, pumping up scandals and ignoring stories that actually make a difference in people’s lives.

If you can do these things, you can find an economic model that works whether that’s a tip jar, subscriptions or some big grant. Whatever you do, don’t think you can do it through advertising. It’s been tried.

Q. Previously, you were editor of The Carrboro Citizen. What has the transition from a print-centric publication to an exclusively online entity been like for you, and what advice would you have for journalists looking to make a similar transition?

A. I always told people that one of the great advantages the Citizen had was that I got to integrate the web and print versions from the start. That was enlightening because it got us past the idea of adapting or converting and into a combined creative process.

It changes your writing if you know you’re going to be able to put the full text of a bill at the bottom of a story or be able to quote extensively from a report. You have to consider how to format, how people read online and how they share stories with each other.

I learned how to make newspapers when they were still made out of molten lead and you had to know how to count headlines. That shaped the profession long after offset changed everything.

You still see the same short verbs and slang created by clever editors for single-column stories. The mental exercise of composing a headline under those circumstances always helped me better understand the story I was writing.

Thinking about how you’d tweet something or post it to your Facebook page isn’t something you’re forced to do since that the big, mean Internet took your print publication away. It’s how information flows now and, frankly, it smells a hell of a lot better than those old linotype machines.

Visit the Carolina Mercury on Facebook and follow its Twitter feed.

Student guest post: The question of removing news after publication

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the second of those posts. Tyler Confoy is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying reporting and philosophy. In the future, she hopes to write features for a monthly, biweekly or weekly publication.

Should editors remove controversial material after it’s been published?

I’ve encountered this question twice in the past few months. Both times, it was posed as a hypothetical, meant to get journalism students thinking about what they might do in a real-world situation.

Many times the question is an ethical one. If no legal problem is involved, the question becomes “Should we remove this?” instead of “Do we have to remove this?” Ultimately, it’s up to the publication.

I’ve encountered journalists who are steadfast in their belief that accuracy is accuracy and that things should rarely be taken down. I’ve heard it explained this way: “If it happened, it happened.” Personally, I tend to side with these journalists. My reasoning is that if you compromise one post, you might start compromising other posts.

I’d like to look into a case that’s been of wide public interest recently. Soon after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14, The Journal News, a newspaper covering New York’s Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, published interactive maps showing the locations and names of permit holders licensed by Westchester and Rockland counties to own a handgun. The Journal News was able to do this under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

Responses to the maps were both positive and negative. Many said they were an invasion of permit holders’ privacy. On Jan. 15, New York passed the NY SAFE Act, putting tighter obligations on gun ownership but also allowing more privacy for gun permit holders. On Jan. 18, Janet Hasson, publisher of The Journal News, released a letter saying that the website had removed the maps. (Snapshots of the maps< remain on The Journal News website.)

In the letter, Hasson wrote, “As a news organization, we are constantly defending the public’s right to know. Consequently we do not endorse the way the legislature has chosen to limit public access to gun permit data. … But we are not deaf to voices who have said that new rules should be set for gun permit data.”

Politico reported that in a statement released also on Jan. 18, Hasson said, “While the new law does not require us to remove the data, we believe that doing so complies with its spirit. … We remain committed to our mission of providing the critical public service of championing free speech and open records.”

These two viewpoints put forth by Hasson don’t quite match up. Why would The Journal News believe in complying with the legislation’s spirit — in fact with the portion of the legislation that protects permit holders’ privacy — if it does not agree with limited public access to data concerning permit holders?

In addition to pointing out the new legislation, Hasson defended the maps’ removal by writing that they had already been seen by those who wanted to see them and that eventually the data presented in the maps would change anyway. This seems logical: If the maps were national news, surely they’d been seen by local folks, and surely information changes.

But it seems more like an excuse. Most journalists don’t take something down within a month just because most people who care have seen it, and it’s understood that information changes with time. These maps were a historical part of the Journal News coverage in the midst of a national gun crisis, and they could have remained online.

It is certainly hard to blame Hasson. The Journal News’ writers were being threatened. Home addresses were published. And maybe the new legislation just pressured Hasson to recognize the ethical dilemma that had been there all along (if not by law, at least in theory): the struggle between freedom of the press and the right to privacy. But ultimately this struggle should have been recognized beforehand.

Having the ability to remove published information is a nice safety net, but journalists and publishers should look at every angle of possible reception and take a definite stance before they publish anything — and perhaps especially before they publish something clearly controversial.

The Journal News initially stood by its decision to post the maps. Then it removed the maps. Will it compromise something else next?

Q&A with Reid Serozi of Triangle Wiki

Reid Serozi is a project organizer of Triangle Wiki, an encyclopedia-style website about the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Serozi discusses what’s behind the project and how Triangle residents can contribute to it.

Q. What is the purpose of Triangle Wiki, and what is your role in it?

A. Triangle Wiki is a grassroots, open-source movement powered by LocalWiki software to provide a free, openly editable, community-centric website for local history, media, opinions, interesting characters and everything else about the Triangle region (Raleigh-Durham).

Triangle Wiki may seem old school as it provides a single place on the Web where local knowledge can be documented and preserved for the future. By no means does the Triangle Wiki Web platform feel old school with the powerful editing capabilities and beautiful editable maps that give a sense of place to each wiki page.

My involvement with Triangle Wiki started in 2011 as a project organizer when I pitched the idea to start a local wiki effort to group of talented Raleigh civic geeks. My responsibilities today are spread across contributing content, actively managing an online wiki community, developing marketing campaigns and planting new local wiki communities in the many different towns and universities within the Triangle region.

Q. What advice do you have for people who want to contribute as writers and editors?

A. Ask yourself what things, places or people do you value the most in your community. Those are potential wiki pages you might find yourself having the greatest knowledge of and desire to contribute toward.

Don’t worry about being formal, asking for permission or producing structured content at first. Visit the wiki and make a few edits on existing wiki pages to get your feet wet.

If a page doesn’t exist, then create one and add a photo or a few lines of content to get the page seeded. Share the page with friends and ask them to contribute what they know.

Don’t focus on high-level contributions like a page about Durham. Triangle Wiki is place to capture the many unique, hidden and wonderful things that make the Triangle what it is.

Q. On occasion, Wikipedia has faced criticism regarding its credibility and accuracy. How does Triangle Wiki ensure that it’s a reliable, trustworthy resource?

A. For starters, did I mention anyone can edit Triangle Wiki?

The criticism we hear the most about Wikipedia is the barriers to entry are too high and the contributors are not even from the local area. You will see Raleigh’s Pullen Park Wikipedia page being updated from people in Chicago.

Triangle Wiki is taking a different approach to making sure it’s a reliable resource, which means allowing content to be subject to a crowdsourced hyperlocal forum. The visitors and contributors are gonna be mainly people from the local community. These are your neighbors, public servants and the same people you stop along a greenway to ask for directions. This same audience is going to have a greater incentive to make sure information about their community is helpful for others.

Q. With the rise of social media, we live in an increasingly crowded world of online information. What is the future of the wiki format fit in that environment?

A. Today, local knowledge is easily shared by the minute within a community in the form of fragmented small digital bits for a short attention span audience. The majority of that local knowledge is shared globally across commercially driven digital media services.

The local wiki is noncommercial and built for the long term by local contributors who love their communities. The local wiki space will eventually fill a void for existing and future hyperlocal blog content.

Generally, hyperlocal blogs are geared toward niche audiences focused around a city, town or neighborhood district that tends to be operated by one or two local volunteers. The hyperlocal blog model is not always sustainable.

There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into a frequent published blog, and the authors eventually move on in life. What happens to those outstanding retired online resources? What if we could shift those publishers toward an open, local wiki model where the content and collaborative contributors will continue for life?

Follow Triangle Wiki on Twitter and contribute to the site.

UPDATE: Triangle Wiki is now LocalWiki Raleigh, but it still has entries about places and people throughout the Triangle region.


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