Post editors discuss digital publishing guidelines

Sep 06, 2011

Peter Perl, The Washington Post's Assistant Managing Editor for Professional Development & Standards, and Jane Elizabeth, Deputy Local Editor for Digital, were online Tuesday, Sept. 6 to take questions about the newspaper, the Web site and The Post's digital publishing guidelines.

Thanks for joining us, everyone.  This is Peter Perl and Jane Elizabeth, and we were part of a nine-person newsroom working group which drafted new guidelines for digital publishing of Post journalism.  We see that you have quite a few questions and we will try to get to all of them.

Could you explain to me the rules in two sentences? I understood nothing from the article. Is this like the tree of knowledge, that if you get to it you get expelled from the garden of make-believe?

This is a great question.  If we could reduce the guidelines to a few sentences, we would have. But the endless complexity of the web makes that impossible. Please remember also, that these are guidelines and not "rules," which is an important distinction.  So, okay, here are two sentences: No matter how much pressure there is to deliver news faster and faster and no matter how much we desire to speak to our readers in a more direct voice, we can never forget the standards for accuracy and fairness that have always guided The Post.  Ombudsman Patrick Pexton, in his Sunday column, offered a one-sentence summary from a journalism professor.  

Do the profanity standards apply to content published on WashingtonPost.com by TechCrunch? It often uses language that the Post normally doesn't use.

Good question. TechCrunch is one of our "content partners" and although they're vetted for credibility and value, we don't force our standards on them. TechCrunch (and others) appear on our site through an automatic feed; if we see objectional content, we can and do remove it.  Always tell us if you see headlines or other content that contradicts our guidelines.  (From Jane Elizabeth.)

The Washingtonian's Harry Jaffe, in his column on the Post's decision to close its regional bureaus, reports, "The paper's experiment with bloggers has not worked out, and many are being cut, according to union sources." Comment?

Untrue. We actually have started new blogs recently, including Tom Jackman's "State of NoVa" and Mike Rosenwald's "Rosenwald, Md."  both of which highlight local news. By the way, blogging is not an "experiment" at The Post; for years, we have added blogs and occasionally ended them based on reader interest. (By Jane Elizabeth.)

The Post often links to other sites form within various reports and columns. Sometimes it is a partnered site, such as Slate, while other times it's to a commercial site such as Amazon or YouTube. I'm assuming that the Post is making some small amount of $$ from these links and click thoughs - what do your new standards say about providing readers with a notice that the Post is making money (maybe not much, but something) by providing these links? If there are several sites you could link to for the information, does the Post choose the site that offers it the highest return?

Our standards do not address this question specifically, but at no time do newsroom reporters and bloggers insert links based on The Post's business interests.

What does RT stand for? You don't need to answer the question in the chat, but you may want to spell it out in the guidelines. Thanks.

RT is retweet -- when a tweet is repeated by another user. 

I could add a pithy comment to a retweet. I usually have no problem thinking of one. I guess nothing's perfect, 'eh? Thanks much. HLB, Mt. Lebanon, PA

...Could the Post please provide a single-page view on its website? It's royal pain to keep jumping to multiple pages on longer articles.

You can get a single-page view by clicking "print."

I did not see anything in the guidelines instructiing bloggers, columnists or online chatters to clearly identify their ideological biases so their agendas would be less hidden. This has been a problem ing the past with former Post writers like Bob Levy and Mark Fischer. It continues to be a problem with Robert McCartney and others.

Bob Levey, Mark Fisher, and now Robert McCartney are all Post columnists and we specifically ask our columnists to share their opinions with readers, no matter how provocative they may be. So their biases are out there and visible to readers every day. 

In this Brave New World of journalism, would you please define for me the difference between a blog and a column? I see you have both, but I'm not sure what differentiates them.

Blogs were made for the Internet. Columns are a print invention. But you probably already knew that. Blogs can be updated continuously; bloggers also tend to converse with their readers more often and share links to outside sources.

I would just like to say that I think your effort to establish professional guidelines in this area is admirable and much needed. As a PR professional who loves reporters, I have followed the pressure on reporters to constantly file stories, but as a political nerd I find it incredibly exasperating the amount of false information that many news websites publish, or promote. Kudos for seeing the forest for the trees and recognizing that the true and meticulous research and reporting will ensure the Post's credibility as a news outlet in the long run. We readers need a source we can count on for the truth.

We thank you.

Why has the "Comments" page been changed so radically? I find it very awkward to repeatedly click on "Expand" and "See More" and "More". It makes for very choppy reading. I'm hoping you find a smoother way to work the "Comments" page.

We redesigned our comments pages about six months ago in an effort to improve readers' access and also to attempt to raise the level of intelligent conversation.  Since the redesign, our comment traffic has roughly tripled and we have literally millions of comments posted.  We are always looking for ways to improve the reader's experience and will continue to try doing that.

Is there an effort being made to get better editorial oversight of the online only content on the Post? While I know the goal now is to be first at reporting everything, I think its worth it to take the 5 extra minutes to read over a column/blog post/story to fix any mistakes. It is infuriating to see errors that shouldn't be made by a 6th grader, let alone a professional writer.

Nearly all  blog posts/stories/columns are read by more than one editor before posting, even during fast-moving news stories. Only rarely is an item posted with no editing; and when that happens, it's "back-read" asap. Having said that, I do realize there are typos and grammar mistakes, certainly more often than we would like. (Trying hard not to make any right now.)  We correct them as soon as we see them -- the lovely thing about the Internet -- and are always grateful to our readers who point out mistakes.  Seriously.

It is very difficult to locate the ombudsman's column on the website. Could you post a direct link to him, either as a separate tab, or in the opinion category? Also, in comparison to his predecessor, he does not seem to be posting much beyond his weekly print column. Is there a reason for that?

You can find Patrick Pexton's columns by clicking on the Opinions tab.  Scroll about 3/4 down the page and you'll see his picture and links to his columns.  I will pass along your question to Mr. Pexton.

wondered to what degree Posties are able to work for other media outlets, as it's said Woodward needs Len Downie's approval to write books for instance. I raised this with the Post's ombudsman if there were standards for outside activities (MSNBC, Lehrer, etc.) but he acted as if I were speaking Greek.

With permission from their editors, Post employees may do appropriate outside work.  Please note that some appearances on other media programs are actually arranged by The Post.

We enjoyed chatting with you and hope to do it again soon.

Peter Perl and Jane Elizabeth

In This Chat
Peter Perl
Peter Perl is Assistant Managing Editor for Professional Development & Standards at The Washington Post. He has worked at The Post for 30 years, as a reporter, editor and magazine writer, and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards.
Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is Deputy Local Editor for Digital at The Washington Post. A former reporter, she also has worked at newspapers in Virginia and Pennsylvania and was an adjunct journalism professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
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