Credit where it’s due: Carson Brackney’s most recent post discusses Angela Hoy’s latest rant against content sites and the people who write for them. In his post, “Content Mills, Angela Hoy, Search Engines and the Quality of Writng” Carson explores who really bears responsibility for bad content. This isn’t to argue Carson’s point, more to discuss the difference between bad writing and bad proofreading and also to touch a little on the responsibility part. I was going to leave a comment on Carson’s blog but it got too wordy, so I’m sharing my thoughts here. Warning: This is kind of wordy too.
Every now and then I like to touch on the topic of bad writing. Because anyone can be a writer nowadays, there’s a lot of bad writing on the web. I’m not going to blame it on web content or low payers, because I know a few high payers who employ writers who, well, aren’t very good. I read “columns” written by high paid celebrities that are absolute garbage. I also know of some sales people who write their own content to sell a product, and bloggers with their own personal blogs who also put out some questionable content. On the other side of the coin there’s plenty of content on the web that’s terrific but the author didn’t proofread very well. As this community knows, I’m guilty of this very thing (but I hope I’m getting better). Sometimes, it’s not bad writing as much as it is bad proofreading.
So I feel like exploring this a bit…
Using the “Loose” vs. “Lose” Theory
In Carson’s article he makes reference to Angela Hoy’s most recent “investigation” which entailed searching for the word “loose” and citing examples of articles where “loose” was used in the title instead of “lose” in order to prove how web content pollutes the airwaves. In all fairness, “loose” instead of “lose” is a pet peeve of mine as well. However, as we were only treated to the titles of the articles and not the actual articles, all Hoy proved was that someone didn’t proofread. We don’t know if the content is poor, because we didn’t read the articles. Using “loose” instead of “lose” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer, it can also mean you’re a bad speller and a bad proofreader. There’s a difference between bad writing and bad proofreading. I post and run all the time, and though that’s not an excuse for publishing sloppy work, the truth is, it happens and it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live.
What makes a bad piece of writing?
Granted, some of the articles referenced in her article might be terrible, but Hoy didn’t link to them and I didn’t read them, so I have no way of telling. However, if the whole article was filled with typos, poorly formed sentences and misinformation, I would have to agree it’s a crappy article. If it’s factually correct and well-written, but simply has a typo in the title, I can be forgiving. I’ve found typos in Writer’s Digest on more than one occasion and I don’t see anyone going after them. There’s a difference between bad writing and bad proofreading. Should we publish articles that are victims of poor proofreading? Of course not. However, to say a well written article with a typo is what’s wrong with the world today is kind of silly.
Who bears responsibility
I’m very vocal about writers being responsible for their own writing. I don’t think it’s the fault of the content site any more than it’s the fault of McDonalds for hiring someone who can’t be counted on to show up for work on time. Anyone who accepts any gig needs to do said gig to the best of his ability or move on. However, I also believe content sites need to be more selective with the writers they hire.
The problem here is the content site’s purpose. If it’s a site geared towards hobbyists, there’s a whole different set of standards than the site geared towards putting out “how to” content or news. Getting upset because someone who writes for a hobby site used “loose” is like getting angry at the people who volunteer to put together a community newsletter for not properly structuring a paragraph. You can’t compare a site like Hub Pages to a site like Demand Studios. They have different pay, different requirements, a different purpose, and sometimes, different writers.The content site that wishes to be viewed as an authority and trusted source of information does bear more responsibility than the hobby site. You can’t go after a site for hobbyists and say “you’re polluting the web” because they’re not claiming to put out reputable content. However the site that employs editors and fact checkers has no excuse.
There are a variety of reasons why a bad piece of writing hits the web, but the bulk of responsibility belongs to the writer. It’s the writer who should proofread several times before hitting “send” and it’s the writer who needs to do more than Google and rewrite when researching information. It’s about pride. It’s about not wanting anyone to read something I wrote and seeing “loose” instead of “lose.” The authoritative content sites need to ensure they hire quality writers, and the editors must do their jobs properly, but any writer who habitually turns in poor writing, doesn’t deserve the gig.
Bad writing isn’t exclusive to content sites
I’ve said it before, if you think bad writing is exclusive to web content sites, read the “Twilight” series. Read the church newsletter and the high school newspaper. Read the newsletter at the Senior center or the weekly Mayor’s address. I find typos on a regular basis in books, magazines, newspapers and on websites. Poor proofreading is everywhere. To say content sites lower the quality of writing on the Internet is like saying the moms who started the neighborhood watch newsletter are lowering the quality of journalism.
Typos vs. Quality
Something I worry about more than a writer using “loose” instead of “lose” is a junior high school kid stumbling upon a piece of fluff in his research and thinking it’s good information. Content sites do bear the responsibility to make sure content is factually correct. Thankfully most schools (and parents) have caught on and don’t allow sites such as Wikipedia or Associated Content to be used as sources or references. Still, folks need to back up their facts. If a writer has no medical experience and they’re Googling and rewriting some bad medical writing they found, a disclaimer would be nice. Personally, I feel people who don’t know a thing about medicine shouldn’t be giving out medical advice, but since there’s no way to police this, we need disclaimers. Folks need to know how writers come across their information. I can overlook a typo if the article contains good information, but I can’t overlook bad information.
News vs. Content
Now, the question was asked if web content sites lower the quality of news on the Internet. I don’t know that they necessarily do. Most web content sites with writers who report the news are relaying the facts so it’s not like they’re getting it wrong. Multiple television stations, websites, magazines and newspapers report on the same scandal. Having someone in web content discuss the same thing doesn’t mean it’s lowering the quality. However, most content sites aren’t reporting news. “How to Tie Your Shoelaces” isn’t news. News and content are two separate puppies.
Are you done yet, Deb?
This went kind of long and I need to wrap it up. I hope it makes sense and I hope I proofread well enough.
Content isn’t evil. Web content sites aren’t evil. Bad writers are everywhere and it has nothing to do with where they work or how much they’re paid. It’s the writer’s responsibility to write well and it’s the editor’s responsibility to to edit. If you’re going after web content sites for a case of bad proofreading, you’re also going to have to go after sign makers, newspapers, sales people, newsletters and magazines. Typos are everywhere. Bad writing should go, but using “loose” instead of “lose” doesn’t a bad article make. It will make me stop and pause. It will make me think more about the writer and the writing, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Who bears the responsibility for bad writing?