Editorial processes: the magazine vs. the blogs

A look at BusinessWeek's editorial process, and the challenges it raises for mainstream bloggers.
Stephen Baker

I'm in an editing lull now, waiting for the writer to answer all the questions that I and others asked last night. So I thought I'd take a minute to compare the editorial processes at the weekly magazine and the blog. Recently a few people have asked me if we bend BW's traditional editorial practices when we blog. The answer is a emphatic "Yes!"

As you'll see as I outline the process, we face an enormous challenge as we plunge into different forms of online journalism, including blogging. It's to be true to our standards of editorial accuracy, fairness and quality--but with far less editorial oversight.

We're proud here of the work we do as a team to lift the level of each story. But what a slog. It's unthinkable for the blog world. Consider the path of a story as it winds its way through our system.

I looked at a draft of the story over the weekend, suggested changes, and spent nine hours editing it yesterday. (Usually two people share this job, but this week we're short-handed.) Then I sent it to the copy desk. There, people who are new to the story read it to see if it makes sense, if the thinking is logical, the context clear, the grammar and spelling ok, the names and titles correct. Meantime, some facts, such as names and Web addresses, are checked by a researcher. The copy desk sends the story, with questions, back to the writer and me. At the same time, the top editors of the magazine have a chance to read the story and suggest changes of their own. Potentially contentious or delicate stories are often sent upstairs to a McGraw-Hill lawyer, who might suggest further adjustments.

Today we work answering the questions, clearing up doubts, filling in holes, and cutting the story to fit on the page.

Then, wouldn't you know, the story goes back to the desk. They edit again--mostly proofreading, making sure questions have been answered, and writing display language this time around--and put it on a literal sheet of paper. Then that paper is circulated back to us. We read it and make fixes, and then carry it to the close desk, where editors make the final changes and push the button to send it to the printing press.

The editorial process of blogging is far simpler. We write, we publish. This takes our journalism into a new sphere, but carries inherent risks. How do we handle them? First, we reduce risk by avoiding the sorts of stories that require heavy editing. We don't blog investigative pieces, for example, or heavy financial analysis. Second, we consult our gut. If it looks risky, we'll push it toward the more edited BW Online or the magazine. Finally, when we make mistakes--which we do--we aim to correct them quickly and ask for your understanding. We're into something new, and all of us, you and I, are only coming to understand it as we create it.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.