Does the name Kara Alongi ring a bell? If the answer is no, you’re not spending enough time on the Internet.
A few weeks ago, the sixteen-year-old New Jersey girl sent out the following tweet:
There is somone in my hour ecall 911
— Kara Alongi (@KaraAlongi) September 30, 2012
After the news broke that her parents had returned home to find her missing, Kara’s seemingly hurried message spread across Twitter with the time-sensitive urgency of a government-issued Amber Alert.
Within hours, hundreds—thousands—of worried friends, and earnest online Samaritans sprung into action. They sent condolences to her parents, joined in solidarity with her friends and family, and pleaded with her captors, using every one of their 140 Twitter characters, for Kara’s safe return. Here are two:
— Nadji(@TheNadjiWay) October 1, 2012
Just the fact that any of us could be taken so easily, just like that, gives me the chills. #HelpFindKara
— LEMNISCATÉ (@infinitehannah) October 1, 2012
Someone even launched the hashtag #HelpFindKara.
Kara did return home, eventually, but not because her captors were persuaded by the outpouring on Twitter to release her. The little sneak had been at a friend’s house the entire time. Turns out, she was just really mad at her parents.
Kara’s Twitter account has gone dark since then (let’s hope she’s grounded), but her story endures as an example of the importance of editors—and why everybody needs one, especially on the Internet.
The web is an infinite and wondrous place. It has revolutionized how we shop, communicate, and conduct research. It’s also pocked with more misinformation than a political campaign.
If you watched NBC’s coverage of the election last Tuesday night, you heard anchor Brian Williams warn viewers of a so-called “rogue” tweet that prematurely projected Elizabeth Warren the winner of a hotly contested Massachusetts Senate race. Warren eventually beat incumbent Scott Brown. But Twitter had her winning the election before votes were even counted.
What does all this mean for you, dear content creator?
At a time when any teenager with a cell phone can break news or, in the case of Kara Alongi, dupe the world into believing she’s been abducted, readers increasingly treasure sources that publish information they can trust.
I know what you’re thinking: Any journalist with a brain understands the importance of checking and double-checking facts. But what’s to say your readers’ favorite bloggers practice the same due diligence? Or that everyone they follow on Twitter reads and vets content before sending it to the masses?
If you publish content, whether for a niche audience or consumer consumption, it’s incumbent upon the editors and writers who populate your pages to hold their work to a higher standard.
Editors are the gatekeepers of information. It’s their job to cut through the rumors and conjecture and report the news that’s fit to print.
But the job description doesn’t end there.
Social networks allow writers and editors to have and maintain a running dialogue with their audience. Content creators can use the web to push and promote their own stories, share information from other sources that their readers will appreciate, and sound an alarm when the Kara Alongis of the world set out to deceive them.
That might mean sending out tweets to alert readers when questionable reporting or misinformation appears online, responding to reader’s questions with links to relevant content, and working to engage readers on a personal level—one that goes beyond the traditional “I-write-it-you-read-it” silent contract that propelled the Broders and Krugmans and Dowds of previous generations to journalistic stardom.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an editor out there who doesn’t enjoy to write. Most of us got into this gig because we wanted to earn money doing what we love. But the new online landscape requires editors to hone and sharpen many of the other skills in their toolbox—some of which might not come easily at first.
Today’s editors should:
- Be increasingly critical of what they see and read.
- Learn how to communicate—not just with sources, but readers, too.
- Use RSS feeds and other tools, such as Evernote, to find, catalogue, and sort useful information. (There’s a lot going on out there, and your readers expect you to be on top of it all.)
- Be active on social media. Chat with readers, share content, and cultivate story ideas on the web.
- Constantly look for ways to improve and deepen the reader experience (e.g. videos, galleries, infographics, chats).
Anybody can be a writer these days—and just about everybody is. But a good editor is still hard to find.