How many exclamation marks are too many?

Another media-related question that I’ve been thinking about recently has to do with publishing reader opinion gathered from online forums, which some industry snobs have termed “reverse publishing” for reasons that escape me.

As newspapers and other media have opened up their websites to comments, some have in turn used those comments to supplement their reporting. For example, this piece which recently appeared in The Gazette about the Hockey Night in Canada theme issue, which has elicited a tonne of opinion just about everywhere it’s mentioned.

Despite my concerns about how much people have to sign their lives away to participate in media websites, publishing people’s opinions in the paper makes sense, if only because it replaces the tedious task of having a reporter go out in the street and convince people walking by to give their name and two cents on an issue they might have never heard of. (It’s gotten so bad in some cases that reporters have resorted to granting requests for anonymity in exchange for man-on-the-street views.)

Then again, I despite streeters with every essence of my being, and think random people’s opinions shouldn’t be published unless they’re interesting in some way.

My ethical dilemma, though, has to do with the process rather than the planning: How much should copy editors edit these comments before publishing them?

On the one hand, comments like “I hope RDS gets it. :))))” seem to be excessive with their use of punctuation for no good reason (what’s the difference between four smiley faces and three?). Typos, one would think, should also be corrected so the newspaper doesn’t look stupid. And if the comments are going to be edited anyway for space, they might as well be edited for style.

On the other hand, there’s always the possibility of introducing error or subtly changing the meaning of a comment by fixing its language. And people can just as easily check the source themselves and notice that their words have been altered. Instead of a direct quote, it becomes an interpretation, a translation of what the person is saying into “proper” English.

So what do you think? Should editors just cut and paste from forums when they quote from them, or should some editing be allowed? And if so, how much? Typos? Grammatical errors? Punctuation? Clarity? Style?

4 thoughts on “How many exclamation marks are too many?

  1. Jean-Pierre

    Oh dear, I can only hope that the “cut & paste” directly from forums is not a growing trend. Using web based content directly to print or tv has its risks and sometimes, a message that might seem clear to a 18 y/o might not make sense to some parts of a larger audience of traditional media. In other, I think if you’re going to quote from a forum, especially if that forum belongs to a media outlet for which you work, “translate” it into proper English (or any other language) so that we can all understand it… gees, I hope that made sense.

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  2. Edna

    My opinion: Fix typos, capitalization, some punctuation. If something isn’t English already, why is it being published? Really? Okay, I’m a snob, but unless there’s a fantastic idea behind it, why bother?

    Oh, and chop ellipses willy-nilly. … I hate that shit.

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  3. Jill

    Minimal editing, in my opinion. Correct the typos and grammatical errors. Leave the rest alone, including ellipses . . . which I love (sorry, Edna. Simply a matter of taste).

    Cheers
    Jill

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  4. princess iveylocks

    Random people’s opinions are stupid. We should only quote experts, ever.

    That said, I think there’s a difference between a verbal utterance made on the record for publication, and a forum post within an anonymous community of commenters, presumably for the most part readers and not the media overlords. The ways in which we present ourselves differ based on context, for example, we might react to conflict differently in a mob than we would at the in-laws’ place. Naturally, some commenters angle for publication (usually irritating the community in the process), but I think we can safely categorize forums as liberating spaces for debate, not necessarily our final opinion on the subjects discussed, or the opinion we’d like our children and bosses to remember years from now. I would hate to lose the more formal aspect of delivering a measured opinion “on the record” because some journalists favour slapdash/time-compressed methods over critical/informed writing.

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