Skip to content
Aug 22 / King Kaufman

You are not alone: Know when you should run your writing by someone

Those of us writing on the web these days have a level of freedom inconceivable just a few years ago. Millions of us are our own publishers, and even those who write on sites owned by others—such as Bleacher Report’s writers—often post their writing online without it being seen first by editors.

That can be a scary thought. Bleacher Report writers don’t exactly operate without a net. B/R’s squadrons of editors are right behind you, going over what you’ve published soon after it goes live. But poorly conceived copy doesn’t need to be online long to cause trouble.

That’s why it’s sometimes smart to take a few extra moments before publishing your story and have someone you trust read it.

If you’re breaking down what to look for in tonight’s NFL exhibition game or something, there’s probably not much risk in hitting publish. But if what you’re writing has any chance of offending people, of being taken the wrong way, of making you look stupid or boorish or ill-informed, run it by an editor, a fellow writer, a friend, someone you trust to be a smart, active reader who won’t just rubber-stamp their approval of anything you write.

Drop a line to the Content Standards team if you’re worried you might be stepping over the line of Bleacher Report’s Content Standards.

About 10 years ago, my editors at Salon had me start publishing my daily sports column directly to the web, without going through an editor. This was unheard of at the time for a professional news organization that prided itself on the high quality of its writing. Publishing straight to the web without benefit of a line edit was something those bloggy blogs in the blogosphere did.

But I had been the copy chief and an associate managing editor before I became a columnist. I had 15 years in the business. My copy was clean and my judgment was good. The bosses trusted me.

I still checked myself all the time, though. For example, if I mentioned race, even in the most offhand, benign way, I’d have someone else read it before I hit publish.

As a writer who publishes directly, you have to develop a sixth sense about what you should double-check. Find that person or those people who’ll tell you that the joke doesn’t work, that the sarcasm doesn’t come through, that you’re not being fair to the person your criticizing, that what you just wrote might be taken the wrong way by some people, or will be hurtful in a way you might not have intended.

Last week, this Blog ran a Quote of the Day by novelist Steven Galloway: “If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.”

What that means is that a good writer takes chances, swings for the fences. When you swing for the fences, you’re more likely to hit a home run but you’re also more likely to strike out.

Be aware of that risk when you’re swinging big. Realize that you’re “allowing yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad.” Enlist a friend who can save you from doing that before it’s too late, and if your friend’s a writer too, offer the same service in return.

  • Ken Kraetzer

    Good points. Writing about the Penn State situation is an example of a topic that needs to be carefully researched and double checked, as the reactions will often be emotional. This summer found myself needing to write obituaries about two athletes who had died from schools I cover. One the story of a former West Point athlete who died in Afghanistan, the article showed up on the first page of Google, took off in the veterans community and was “liked” on Facebook 400 times. Not because of the author, because of the story. The other just six hours after a college basketball player was shot dead in Chicago days before leaving for Iona. Fortunately I had two confirmations, one from a Chicago paper, and the other an announcement from the school on Facebook. The article was featured by Google and generated 1,600 hits. Both stories I learned about through Facebook. On stories like these you take a major responsibiltiy to get the facts 100% correct. It is also important to tell the stories.

  • Mark

    Really good ideas here, King.
    I think that for some people who are writing about a sensitive topic, it is less nerve-racking to post something on a site like B/R than to send it to a single person for feedback.
    But really, if you’re nervous about sending it to a single person, you probably shouldn’t be posting it to a wide audience. Bite the bullet and get that one-on-one feedback first.