Editing breaking news for online

Bill Cloud | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

When working online, copy editors often must quickly decide whether a breaking story is ready to post on the Web. On the one hand, we want to be first with the story. On the other, we want to preserve our siteís credibility by not publishing stories that turn out to be wrong.

To help students make those decisions, Iíve developed a set of stories based on a real incident in my neighborhood. (It never was reported on a news Web site, but it was the subject of much e-mail traffic and a posting on a school Web site, as well as a follow-up news release from my town.)

The story comes in four pieces. With each story, I ask the students whether we should post the story. From their responses, we develop a list of factors to consider (credible sources, need to know, warning the public, etc.). With each new piece, we examine and review our list of factors and further discuss whether the story should be published. There are no right or wrong answers, but the students learn to think through the decision-making process.

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