Web content: What not to do

I hate to take to the soapbox against my former employer, the News & Observer. Why kick a dog when it’s already down, particularly to pick nits?

As a longtime true-crime buff, I’ve been following the latest chapter of the Jeffrey MacDonald saga with great interest. The N&O is offering fairly detailed coverage, including a contribution by retired columnist Dennis Rogers, who first interviewed MacDonald during grand jury proceedings in 1974.

Unfortunately, I don’t know who, if anyone, is editing the online coverage.

Exhibit A: The misspelling of MacDonald’s elder daughter’s name in Rogers’ column. It’s Kimberley, not Kimberly. Picky? Yes. But let’s not start sliding an experimental toe down that slippery slope.

Exhibit B: The sloppy nonlink. The N&O might have thought it was being helpful by including a bit.ly link to a Fayetteville Observer story. It fails. The bit.ly URL isn’t hypertext, thus requiring readers to copy and paste it into the navigation bar to get anywhere. Also, a more effective and user-friendly way to link would be to use the subject of the sentence as anchor text: “The Fayetteville Observer reported.” By using anchor text instead of the awkward and outdated parenthetical reference, the N&O could have elegantly streamlined the sentence, created less work for the reader and showcased just a bit of UX savvy.

These aren’t the types of flaws that require a postapocalyptic copy editor like me to rectify. They’re commonsense fixes.

The N&O’s traditional copy desk dissolved last year. To the best of my knowledge, it still employs online editors. Here’s to hoping that someone, someday, sees the value of beefing up online staff with a few old-school copy editors who can give online content the kind of care it deserves.

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