Stealth edits.

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.

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8 Responses to Stealth edits.

  1. Matt says:

    Beebwatch is a pretty good idea, but the Telegraph is doing a miserable job presenting it online.

    It’s hard to find, it has no archive links that I can see, etc.

    It appears that you mean to link to a different Beebwatch column, since I can’t see what you mean by ‘stealth editing’ in this one.

    Oh, well.


  2. Squander Two says:


    Did you read the last two paragraphs?


  3. ed says:

    Stealth edits would suit Andrew Gilligan down to the ground. Set the ball rolling and then… produce a new ball.


  4. Andy Whittles says:

    Matt’s comment (above) about Beebwatch being hard to find is so true I’ve started buying the newspaper! However, I’ve found that the only way to locate it online is to do a search for Beebwatch on the home page.

    Other than that, I think the Telegraph column is great. BBC journalists seem to hate being criticised or ridiculed, so it’s nice to think of the really smug ones fuming silently…


  5. Norman Geras says:

    Snap, Natalie. If it’s a typo, badly formed sentence or other stylistic point that I later pick up, I just change it, no messing. But if it’s substantive, I think the change should be signalled.


  6. joe says:

    Find Beebwatch on the Telegraph site by going to “Opinion” from the front page. Then to “DT Opinion”.
    A search on “Beebwatch” within “Opinion” then produces a list of back copy.


  7. Matt says:

    Did you read the last two paragraphs?

    Apparently I am a dolt.


  8. Patrick Crozier says:

    Yes, a last updated field is something blogs need. Presumably there are a few out there which already have it as a feature.