Authoring: Choices in omission

In print, the writer inevitably chooses what to cut from an article. Online, however, writers discover they have to add more — not by their editors’ standards, but from a duty to tell the full story.

The endless writing space online has created a profound new ethical obligation for writers of factual articles: more complete reporting. This obligation requires thoughtful consideration of what gets left out.

Traditional publishing routines require omission (Koch, 1991). Limited writing space often interferes with a writer's ability to include all information relevant to a given article.

Newsroom routines have hindered the production of online news, making online journalism an imperfect mirror image of its print counterpart; however, some reporters and editors are learning that articles "acceptable and accessible" in one medium are not necessarily so in others (Martin, 1998, p. 65).

Online, constraints on article-length do not exist: Endless space shocks writers with the possibility of adapting to new routines.

The writer knows cyberspace will accommodate a more complete version of the article — and that hypertext makes it possible to show all the parts of a story in relationship to one another. Before deciding what to scrap, the writer weighs how omitting any one part alters the whole.

For example: While reporting on a public advisory board's 5-4 decision to recommend funding for a new bike trail, a writer might interview the nine board members and several citizens living near proposed trail areas.

For print, the writer probably would present the arguments through quotes from two or three board members and one or two concerned citizens. Space permitting, he or she might write up each interview separately, but it is unlikely. Presenting each interview as a discrete unit would not make sense in a linear article, and there would not be enough space.

Online, each interview could be a component. Which perspective(s) could the writer fairly omit?