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Editing for Clear Communication
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The Death of DeadlinesWhen 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.