In an overnight note from one my shifts on the night interactive desk recently, I suggested to editors that we needed to be careful about perpetually updating one existing story on the website.
I think it’s good that we update “in place” with breaking news stories. The initial link that we share via social media, and that our readers share with their friends, percolates for hours, at least, through our potential audience. While that link is actively circulating, it ought to take readers who click it to the latest information.
But when we update an hours-old story on the site with new information, we run a risk of inadequately alerting our regular readers that there is new information. The word “UPDATE:” is pre-pended to the headline with the very first update, but with subsequent updates, we aren’t very good about changing the headline to highlight new information. Readers don’t get good flags from us that there’s new information. Especially when a story has aged itself off the home page, it doesn’t make much sense to bury new information in it. And if our update is relatively minor, it doesn’t make much sense to resurface an old story on the home page. At some point, we need to close the original story and start a new one, even if it’s just a brief.
I’m not sure we do the best job of making clear to readers what is new when we do the updates in place, either. We’ll sometimes highlight the new information and flag it with a headnote or footnote. At other times, new information is just silently dropped into place, with no formal notice to a reader who might be following the story closely. I’ve seen other sites do time-stamped, reverse-chronological updates, with new information simply added in a new grafs at the top of the file, like blog posts.
Do you have thoughts about how this works ideally? Do you want to defend our current system? Have you seen this done well at another news site you frequent?