Via Accredited Online Colleges.org: 50 Awesome Open Courses for Web Writers. Some of these look pretty interesting. An "open course" is one that's free--and free of teacher feedback. The concept was pioneered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and many of these are MIT courses.
The other day a journalism student sent me an item that might have made an item for The Hook, the politics blog of Vancouver's online magazine The Tyee.
It was a dramatic story: A Guatemalan had come to Vancouver, attended the meeting of a Vancouver-based corporation, and denounced it for the damage it was doing to his community and region. A few months later, the man's son had been shot dead.
A number of Spanish-language websites had reported this murder and of course denounced it. The journalism student wanted to publish a story about it on The Hook.
At first glance, it looked fine: Vancouver angle, Third World sorrow, justice not yet done. The web is the medium of knee-jerk reactions, and this looked like a good one.
But I went into the Spanish-language sites that had reported this story, and then tried to run down the original source.
I found it, an organization with a lot of sites, but most of them were "parked," with nothing on them. The sites that reported the story used the identical wording, and none offered any kind of evidence beyond the basic fallacy of "post hoc ergo propter hoc"--after this, therefore because of this.
Googling the names of the victim and his father showed that the family had made a lot of enemies, and had had several run-ins before the shooting of the son. I'm sure the enemies were very nasty people, and they should have been arrested, tried, and put in jail.
But nothing showed any connection with the Vancouver corporation. To have published a story with so little confirmation would have been to invite an exciting lawsuit--not to mention the skepticism of our readers. They may not be fans of big, exploitive corporations, but they're not stupid.
The web tends to encourage shocks and to discourage careful, patient building of logical arguments. A lot of Spanish-language websites had gone for the shock, assuming that their readers were predisposed to think the worst of a Canadian corporation.
But a Canadian online journal needs strong evidence for strong claims, and this story had almost no evidence at all. The young man's death was certainly a tragedy, but only innuendo could link it to the corporation.
I advised the student to dig further into the story; until we had some solid evidence, we had no story at all.
Except a story about how the web gives us stories, and also gives us the refutation of those stories.
One of the few constants in the changing world of webwriting has been A List Apart, an excellent resource for web creators. I'm especially fond of ALA's Writing section. I don't always agree with what the articles suggest, but they all show evidence of experience and strong views—and they're pretty good webwriting!
I've neglected this blog for some time, partly because covering swine flu has taken up much of the last four months. (That's been a lesson in webwriting in itself, and one I'll touch on here now and then.)
But starting today I'm making some changes in both design and content, and (I hope) reviving the discussion about what makes good webwriting.
If you know of good sites dedicated to writing for the web, please let me know and I'll link to them. Good articles on the subject? Let me know.
And if you yourself are writing or editing for the web, by all means send me your URL and I'll add you to the list of Webwriters and Editors.