NetNewsWire has a feature where it will show you the differences on successive revisions of a story, which is interesting, sometimes amusing, and probably too embarrassing for publishers to live with. Herewith a couple of surprising examples and a war story with a funny look inside Microsoft.
Newsmorph · I have NetNewsWire screenshots of these, but they’re like 600 pixels wide and so they don’t fit nicely into the ongoing flow. Fortunately, with the magic of CSS, we can reproduce them. Red and struck-through is old text, green is new text, black is what remained unchanged in the most recent edit.
U.S. Said to Shift Approach in Talks With North Korea
The U.S.President Bush authorized negotiators to say last week that he is prepared to take a range of steps to aid North Korea, but inducements would be phased in slowly only as the North starts surrendering its nuclear weapons. starving nation.
Take a moment to work out the old and new versions of that story, and ponder the editorial process that lay behind the change. Here’s another:
Grim News About Iraq
On Sunday, President Bush set out to convince prepared the country that the terrible toll electorate for years of occupation, billions more in Iraq is a necessary price to pay in a struggle against terror. News analysis. expense, and many bad days.
The direction of spin here is a little less painfully obvious, but the tone of the story has certainly changed planets.
These are both from the New York Times, I forget whether the International or Editorial feeds. I can’t imagine the Times being happy having its editorial entrails so clearly exposed. Fortunately, the solution is obvious: Publish revisions as new stories rather than as deltas.
Microsoft Public Relations · A Seattle firm named Waggener Edstrom has been Redmond’s voice coach for years; they are notorious for keeping a steely grip on the message, and objectively I’d have to say they’ve served Microsoft well. This is one reason why the recent explosion of Microsoft bloggers is a bit surprising to those of us who’ve dealt with that message in the past.
Anyhow, in October 2002, Jean Paoli, the original XML guy at Microsoft, with whom I go back a long way, asked me if I could provide a nice quote for the big Office 11 announcement with all the cool XML stuff. I had no problem doing that since I genuinely thought that this was a good thing, and it never hurts to get you and your company’s name in a press release that everyone’s going to read.
Except for, I’m paranoid about PR dweebs tinkering with my words, so I told Jean “As long as I get absolute control over the words you use; of course if you don’t like them you don’t have to run it, but don’t change them, OK?” Jean agreed, although I could tell he thought I was being a bit paranoid, and I was. I sent a quote and he spotted a typo and suggested an improvement, called up and very politely asked if it would be OK to make the changes, and I agreed, and he sent me an email with the final text asking me formally for my release, and I gave it.
Of course, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. WaggEd changed the language in the released version. Here are the deltas, NetNewsWire style:
“The XML-enabling of Office was obviously a major investment and is a major achievement,” said Tim Bray, co-inventor of XML and CTO/ and founder of Antarctica Systems Inc. “‘Office 11’, built around an open, internationalized file format, is going to be a huge step forward for userspeople, management, independent software developers and for Microsoft.”
Now this is interesting. I guess changing “/” to “and” is OK, and I think noting that my employer is incorporated is actually legally required in certain contexts. Putting quotes on ‘Office 11’—huh?
Changing “users and managers” to “people and managers” is pernicious; do WaggEd/Microsoft not think that managers are people? It really changes the sense of what I was trying to say, that the impact of open markup in Office-land would be multi-level. Also, the juxtaposition of “people” and “management” is just awkward and lame. Removing that trailing “for” irritated me almost as much. If I were a professional writer working for a professional editor with a house style guide in place and the editor and style guide said to expunge the “for” well then OK. But what they wanted was a quote from T.Bray, and dammit T.Bray wrote that sentence with a “for” because that’s the way I write and they broke Jean’s promise for him.
Jean, who is a decent human being in my opinion, was genuinely mad that the PR droids had done the dirty downstream, and I wasn’t actually that irritated. Mind you, it will be a cold day in hell before I give another friendly quote to Microsoft, since clearly their PR lizard-brains can’t be trusted not to fuck with it.
Anyhow, I don’t need to. If I want to say something nice I’ll say it here and Box or Scoble or someone will pick it up and those guys understand that what people said is what they said, not what PR said they said. And Box and Scoble et al are rapidly becoming very important to Microsoft’s image, potentially more so than all that message-managing apparatus. One reason is that neither would talk about “people” and “management” that way.
Editing in Public · Whether you’re the Times or WaggEd or a blogger, it’s going to be tough—maybe impossible—to keep your edits to yourself if you’re doing it on the Web. Here at ongoing I change things all the time, and I make a judgement call as to whether the change is significant, and if it is, I put an [Updated] note in the first para so it’ll go into the syndication feed. Others are going to have to work out their own policies.