“Blessing and Curse”

by Dan Ward

Bernie Sanders fans are up in arms over “stealth edits” made to a New York Times story detailing Sanders’ legislative history.  According to the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, readers have every reason to be upset.

The original article described in fairly positive tones the legislative victories Sanders won in Congress despite his political independence.  After several hours – and lots of online discussion – editors made significant changes that, in Sullivan’s words, turned the story “from almost glowing to somewhat disparaging.”

Sullivan’s take is that the Times editors should have included an explanation behind such substantive changes, and that it is questionable why a feature story that likely took much time to develop couldn’t have been edited before it was published online.

Political beliefs aside, there is a lesson here for PR pros … online stories often change, sometimes significantly, and those changes can impact substance and tone.  When we secure online “hits” for clients, we need to capture those stories immediately and monitor for additional edits that may change the tone of those stories and their impact on our clients’ businesses.  We may find ourselves now clipping two or three versions of the same story, and we have a responsibility to call attention to changes with which we may disagree.

The article’s immediate editor, Michael Tackett, was correct in referring to “the blessing and the curse” of real-time publishing.  It’s a blessing and curse for us as well.

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