This document is a supplement to
Editing for Clear Communication
Copyright 1996-1999,
Thom Lieb

No portion may be reused without the author's permission.

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Editing for the Web

The Death of Deadlines

When you go shopping for milk, you probably take a quick look at the sell-by date. If it's too old, you pass.

The same thing happens on the Web. Cruise up to a site that says "Last updated March 11, 1995" and you're not likely to stay long. More than users of any other medium, Web users seem to need a constant fix of the latest and greatest.

Because of that, Web producers need to realize that a Web site has to be updated continuously, or first-time visitors will not stay long — and there won't be any second-time visitors.

The need for updating is particularly acute for news sites on the Web. Once CNN Interactive went on line with its 24-hour-a-day updates, other news sites — even print-based ones — responded by virtually eliminating the idea of a daily deadline. At the Washington Post's Web site, for example, news and sports are updated 24 hours a day, as often as every 10 minutes. Jim Sheppard, former manager of online news and daily production for the Post's Web edition, says his staff had to adapt to "more of a broadcast writing model" because of the emphasis on timeliness.

That emphasis does not, however, mean that every aspect of every Web site needs 24-hour-a-day updates. Bruce Koon of Mercury Center, the online version of the San Jose Mercury News, suggests updating features and departments at scheduled times. For instance, a column might be updated only once a week — but other features on a site would be updated in between.

Koon also suggests that Web producers keep in mind another type of deadline, what he calls the Kevorkian rule. "Try a project for a given amount of time, then review it," he suggests. Any projects that don't seem worthwhile — in terms of time, expense or visitor hits — should be killed so new projects can be undertaken.

Rethinking the notion of deadlines does take some time. But if you put in that time, you'll never leave a sour taste in your readers' mouths.

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