Got this one from the comments to the last post. Tasty Manatees made a few judicious comments about a BBC story on a riot in Iraq. Then he found the story had mysteriously changed… And, as the next commenter points out, the Telegraph’s Beebwatch has reported
another example of a stealth edit.
To some extent I think that stealth edits are a natural result of the explosion of written material put out by the BBC – it’s worth remembering that only a few years ago the BBC’s output was pretty well all either scripted or spontaneous spoken word – and of the fact that writing on the internet can be changed. I bet many an over-hasty newspaperman has wished he could chop and change too. Stealth edits are sometimes better than letting the kiddies’ sillier statements stand; at least it proves that there is someone there with enough grounding in reality to recognise when there might be a problem. But there really ought to be either some convention to mark when and where the edit took place and/or a Error Central page like the readers’ editors pages of some newspapers. Many BBC news stories have a line saying “last updated” at the top, but it’s like those “last checked” charts in supermarket loos: no one seems to actually update the ‘last updated’ signs very often.
This might be a good moment to talk about my own stealth editing policy, which I have just this moment made up. (I don’t know what the other posters think. Contrary to popular belief I am not the boss here.) It’s this. I can stealth edit all I like except when I really want to.
In other words, typos, mis-spellings, grammatical errors, etc. will be corrected without informing you, the readers. Little improvements to the style, ditto. There is a grey area when it comes to making substantial but uncontroversial changes – deleting or adding whole paragraphs; I’d try to mention it but it’s no great sin if I don’t. But if I have made an embarrassing boo-boo I have to admit it.
Yes, that’s actually a more lax policy than I recommend for the BBC. So what? This is a blog. They are the BBC.