Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

March 11 2011

15:00

Why Hasn't LA Weekly Corrected its Lara Logan Story?

On February 15 the LA Weekly published a post by Simone Wilson under the headline "Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and War Zone 'It Girl,' Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration." The opening paragraph stated that Logan had been "brutally and repeatedly raped" -- with that phrase emphasized in bold type.

The LA Weekly apparently got the story wrong. Logan had suffered a horrifying sexual assault while working in Cairo's Tahrir Square, disturbing details of which came to light in subsequent media coverage. But according to reporting from three different news outlets
-- The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and IOL News of South Africa (Logan's native country) -- Logan was not raped. Those articles were cited in a MediaBugs error report posted last week by Tracy Clark-Flory, a journalist who covers women's issues. (Disclosure: Clark-Flory is a friend and former colleague of mine at Salon.) Since the report was posted, MediaBugs sent three emails to LA Weekly editors seeking a response. We've received none.

It's understandable how a news organization might have made this kind of mistake; while many initial reports about Logan's attack adhered to a statement from CBS News describing "a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating," LA Weekly wasn't the only outlet to make the leap to "rape." (See Jen Phillips' post on MotherJones.com for more on this.)

Still, it's troubling that more than three weeks later the LA Weekly has not posted a correction on its piece, or explained why it believes no correction is warranted. To say that accuracy is important to a news organization's credibility is stating the obvious -- but it seems particularly crucial when public understanding is distorted around a story as emotionally and politically fraught as Logan's.

The Central Fact Was Wrong

Here's one small anecdote showing why. Last weekend I described the issue to a friend who is well-read on current events. He said that he'd seen the LA Weekly piece, among others. When I told him that Logan apparently had not been raped, he was surprised -- he'd understood that to be a central fact of the story.

Logan3.pngThe LA Weekly's silence on the matter could in part be due to the withering criticism it came under for Wilson's piece, which ran with a curvaceous photo of Logan and used various sexualized descriptions of her, including "firecracker" and "gutsy stunner." Newsrooms tend to circle the wagons when under attack.

That uproar, ultimately, was a matter of editorial judgment and (brutally bad) taste, one that LA Weekly editors may or may not choose to address at some point. (Wilson did so, to some degree, in an update appended to her post on Feb. 16.)

But this issue is more straightforward. By not addressing the apparent factual mistakes brought to its attention, the LA Weekly not only damages its reputation but also does a disservice to Logan's story, which has cast a powerful light on a previously underreported problem faced by female journalists. The uncorrected errors take a piece that already comes across as insensitive and make it seem irresponsible, too.

January 14 2011

15:30

This Week in Review: Real-time reporting errors in Tucson, Twitter’s WikiLeaks stand, and Quora arrives

Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news.

Managing reporting errors in the river of news: Though Saturday’s tragic shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was primarily a political story, it created several ripples that quickly spread into the media world. (One of those was the debate over our rather toxic climate of political rhetoric, though I’ll leave that to other outlets to focus on.) Another issue, more directly related to the future-of-news discussion, regarded how the news spread in the shooting’s immediate aftermath.

As Lost Remote’s Steve Safran described, several major news organizations, including Reuters, NPR, BBC News, and CNN, wrongly reported soon after the shooting that Giffords had died — reports that were corrected within a half-hour. NPR in particular devoted quite a bit of space to explaining its error, with social media editor Andy Carvin, ombudsman Alicia Shepard, and executive editor Dick Meyer all weighing in.

There was plenty of scrutiny from outside, too: Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore called the mishap “understandable, but not excusable,” and The Next Web’s Chad Catacchio suggested that Twitter use editorial judgment to ensure that inaccurate information isn’t highlighted in its Top Tweets. Salon’s Dan Gillmor cited the situation as a reminder of Clay Shirky’s line that “fact checking is down, but after-the-fact checking is way up.” Gillmor also posted an appropriate excerpt from his book, Mediactive, urging all of us to take a “slow news” approach to breaking news stories. Seattle TV journalist Paul Balcerak took the opportunity to remind both journalists and their audiences to ask “How do you know that?”

The erroneous tweets launched a parallel discussion on just what exactly to do with them: Leave them there? Delete them? Correct them? The debate began in the comments of Safran’s Lost Remote post, with NPR’s Carvin explaining why he left his faulty tweet as is. WBUR’s Andrew Phelps explained why he made the same decision, and ex-Saloner Scott Rosenberg defended both of them in two posts, suggesting a corrected retweet might offer a good compromise.

A couple of other new-media angles to the shooting’s coverage: The Lab’s Justin Ellis and Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman looked at the awkward art of publicly making interview requests on Twitter, and Nieman Storyboard highlighted innovative storytelling approaches amid the shooting’s chaotic aftermath.

Twitter’s stand against secrecy: The ongoing WikiLeaks saga publicly roped in Twitter this week, as news broke of the U.S. Department of Justice issuing an order requesting the Twitter activity of several people involved with the organization. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who posted many of the order’s details and a copy of the order itself, also wondered, “did other Internet and social network companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) receive similar Orders and then quietly comply?”

Remarkably, Twitter didn’t just quietly comply. The order originally had a gag order preventing Twitter from telling the targets themselves that it was handing over their data, but Twitter challenged it in court and got a new, unsealed order issued, then told the targets about it. Fast Company looked at the likely role of Twitter’s attorney, Alexander Macgillivray, in challenging the order, and Wired’s Ryan Singel praised Twitter for standing up for its users against government, something that hasn’t really been a norm among online companies.

Mashable’s Vadim Lavrusik examined the potential implications of the order for journalists doing reporting on Twitter and other social media platforms, and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM noted that the episode illustrates how much we rely on single corporate networks within social media.

The traditional news media, meanwhile, remains lukewarm at best toward WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as McClatchy pointed out. At The Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman broke down one manifestation of that cold shoulder — the way mainstream news organizations continue to incorrectly report that WikiLeaks has released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, when it has actually released just 2,000.

Also on the WikiLeaks front, Assange claimed in an interview to have “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp., and WikiLeaks attacked those who have called for Assange to be hunted down or killed. American WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum tweeted about his being detained by the U.S. while re-entering the country, and was profiled by Rolling Stone. And Evgeny Morozov of Foreign Policy argued that WikiLeaks’ cause would be best served if it would shift from leaking information to building a decentralized, open Internet infrastructure.

Quora hits the scene: The explosion of the question-and-answer site Quora is a story that’s been building for several weeks, but I thought now would be as good a time as any to get you up to speed on it. The buzz started just after Christmas, when tech guru Robert Scoble wondered whether it could be the next evolution of blogging. MG Siegler of the influential tech blog TechCrunch followed up by saying much the same thing, and talked about using Quora as inspiration for many of his TechCrunch posts. That week, it also received praise from Google’s head of user interaction, Irene Au.

That was the nudge Quora needed to begin some seriously explosive growth, doubling its number of signups twice in about two weeks. Quora, which was founded in 2009 by two Facebook veterans, is a fairly simple site — just questions and answers, not unlike Yahoo Answers and Facebook Questions. But it’s managed to keep the quality of questions and answers up, and it’s attracted a smart user base heavy on the “cool kids” of the tech world.

The next question, though, was how this rapid growth would shape Quora. The Telegraph’s Milo Yiannopoulos predicted that it would get bigger than Twitter, though Vadim Lavrusik of Mashable saw it as more suited to niche communities: “Quora feels heavy, which is of course where it excels, providing in-depth commentary to questions. But that heaviness is unlikely to attract a large audience.”

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM questioned whether Quora will be able to maintain its standard of quality as it grows, and Mary Hamilton wrote about Quora’s struggles between what its admins want and what its user want. Meanwhile, Journalism.co.uk’s Kristine Lowe noted that more journalism-related questions were being posted, Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore explored several of the best ways for journalists to use Quora, including looking for ideas for local content and monitoring the buzz around an issue.

Reading roundup: I haven’t given you any iPad updates yet, so you know this review can’t quite be finished. Very well then:

— We’re still talking about the decline of magazine app sales on the iPad, with The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss looking at that disappointment and some publishers’ efforts to overcome it. Advertising Age’s Simon Dumenco called those sales declines meaningless, but designer Khoi Vinh urged those publishers to stop pouring their resources into print-like tablet products.

The particular project that everyone’s most interested in is Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, which was reported to be launching next Wednesday with Murdoch and Steve Jobs on stage together but now has reportedly tabled its launch for a few weeks. Rex Sorgatz heard that its companion website will have no homepage and be hidden from search engines, and Poynter’s Damon Kiesow took a peek at the site’s source code for clues.

— Wikipedia will turn 10 this weekend, and Pew kicked off the commemoration with a survey finding that 42% of American adults use Wikipedia to look up information. Mathew Ingram of GigaOM explained how Wikipedia set the prototype for modern information flow on the web.

— Facebook announced this week that it will allow users to like individual authors and topics within sites. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick said it’s a step toward Facebook being able to do what RSS feeds couldn’t. Meanwhile, the Bivings Group looked at the top newspaper Facebook fan pages.

— One great piece I missed last week: Paul Ford conceptualized the web as a customer service medium, organized around the central question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Ryan Sholin applied the concept to online reporting.

— If you’re interested in real-time editing and curation, this might be an experiment to watch: Quickish, launched this week by former ESPN-er Dan Shanoff, who is starting by applying that concept to sports commentary and hoping to expand to other areas.

— Finally, three bigger pieces to ponder over the weekend: Dan Gillmor’s book excerpt at Salon on surviving the tsunami of information; Forbes’ Lewis DVorkin’s vision for the news site built on personally branded journalists; and the Lab’s Ken Doctor on the metrics that will define news in 2011.

December 05 2010

14:30

CNN Fails to Correct Mistaken Identity for New Zealand PM

CNN's broadcasts are of packed with cheerleading for the network's viewer participation opportunities. You're encouraged to "share your story" at CNN iReport or "join a live chat" at Anderson Cooper's blog or check out CNN Heroes on Facebook or follow one of the network's nearly three dozen Twitter feeds. Welcome to the brave new world of interactive news!

But what if you notice an error in a CNN broadcast and want to tell the network about it?

Welcome to the jungle.

Email Black Hole

Back on October 28, a MediaBugs user filed a bug pointing out that a CNN broadcast had misidentified the prime minister of New Zealand as a film executive. You can watch the video below:

A primary goal of MediaBugs is to help improve communication between the public and newsrooms on error reports; currently we reach out to reporters and editors to let them know when bugs are filed.

Over the ensuing two weeks, I emailed CNN twice using an email form designated on its website for reporting an error. I got no response. That wasn't entirely surprising because the form's auto-reply message says, "While we are unable to personally reply to every email, your comments are important to us, and we do read each and every one."

CNN.com provides no contact information for editorial staff. (My search engine sleuthing for CNN managing editor Jay Kernis' email address proved unfruitful.) Eventually, I came across a Twitter account on a feedback page for CNN TV, @TeamCNN, whose bio indicates it is "dedicated to assisting our viewers." After a cordial exchange of messages on Twitter, @TeamCNN asked me to submit the error using another email form, which was different from, though similar to, the one I'd used earlier. It was Nov. 18, three weeks since the bug had been filed. "We will look into it," @TeamCNN said.

After a couple more Twitter exchanges, there was still no result. Another week had passed. CNN may present itself as on the cutting edge of social media, but clearly it was time to pick up the phone. There had to be a way to reach a real live person in the newsroom, even though the only number I could find anywhere on CNN's website was buried at the bottom of this About page. It was for contacting the network's "Copyright Agent." Googling farther afield, I dug up a number for a main line at CNN headquarters in Atlanta and asked the operator to connect me to the appropriate department. I reached an editorial assistant and explained the situation. He agreed that I should email him the bug report, saying he'd look into it. I sent him the link a few minutes after we hung up. A few days later I followed up at the same email address to check on a result.

No Correction

As of this writing, CNN still hasn't provided a response. Perhaps the particular broadcast error is so far in the rear view mirror at this point that correcting it doesn't much matter to them. So what if a handful of viewers were left thinking that the creative director of WETA Workshop, Richard Taylor, is a dead ringer for New Zealand Prime Minister John Key?

Or, for all we know, the network may have already issued a correction on the air weeks ago. The problem is, there's no way to find out on its website because CNN.com has no corrections content at all.

The point of slogging through this tale isn't to pick on CNN, but rather to illuminate an endemic problem. CNN.com is hardly alone in its inaccessibility and unresponsiveness, as MediaBugs' recently published national survey of news sites reveals. We've had similar experiences reporting errors via MediaBugs with Fox News, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

With digital platforms for news in rapid ascendancy, this status quo is untenable. Today, problems in news coverage are being discussed online by anyone and everyone; newsrooms need to welcome sincere attempts by the public to notify them about factual mistakes.

That means offering real accessibility -- a clear way to report an error and a commitment to responding. Many news sites still rely on a generic email address or a form buried deep in their pages, or on chaotic comments threads, for feedback. But if reporting an error using those channels feels like pulling back window curtains on a brick wall, why would anyone bother?

Positive Results

We've been glad to see several positive outcomes at MediaBugs, too, with timely corrections from CBSNews.com, and from KCBS and KNTV in San Francisco. Thus far these have been the exception. But the good news is that it's pretty easy for newsrooms to make effective changes on this front (see our rundown of best practices in error reporting and corrections).

And let's take it a step further, toward a real breakthrough: Maybe one day soon, the industry standard will be for all online news pages to have a prominently placed, universal button for reporting an error. A new project just launched by MediaBugs founder Scott Rosenberg and Craig Silverman of Regret the Error (and PBS MediaShift) is aiming for just that. Newsrooms of the 21st century: Please join us as a participant in the Report an Error Alliance.

November 01 2010

19:33

Why MediaBugs Won't Take the Red or Blue (State) Pill

MediaBugs.org, our service for reporting errors in news coverage, has just opened up from being a local effort in the San Francisco Bay Area to covering the entire U.S. We're excited about that expansion, and we've spiffed up various aspects of our site, too -- check it out.

But with this expansion we face an interesting dilemma. Building a successful web service means tapping into users' passions. And there's very little that people in the U.S. are more passionate about today than partisan politics.

We have two very distinct populations in the country today with widely divergent views. They are served by separate media establishments, and they even have their own media-criticism establishments divided along the red and blue axis.

So the easiest way to build traffic and participation for a new service in the realm of journalism is to identify yourself with one side or the other. Instant tribe, instant community. Take a red-state pill or a blue-state pill, and start watching the rhetoric fly and the page views grow.

I'm determined not to do that with MediaBugs, though it's sorely tempting. Here's why.

The Road Less Traveled

I don't and can't claim any sort of neutrality or freedom from bias as an individual, and neither, I believe can any journalist. Anyone who reads my personal blog or knows my background understands that I'm more of a Democratic, liberal-progressive kind of person. This isn't about pretending to some sort of unattainable ideal of objectivity or about seeking to present the "view from nowhere."

Instead, our choice to keep MediaBugs far off the red/blue spectrum is all about trying to build something unique. The web is already well-stocked with forums for venting complaints about the media from the left and the right. We all know how that works, and it works well, in its way. It builds connections among like-minded people, it stokes fervor for various causes, and sometimes it even fuels acts of research and journalism.

What it rarely does, unfortunately, is get results from the media institutions being criticized. Under the rules of today's game, the partisan alignment of a media-criticism website gives the target of any criticism an easy out. The partisan approach also fails to make any headway in actually bringing citizens in the different ideological camps onto the same playing field. And I believe that's a social good in itself.

It would be easy to throw up our hands and say, "Forget it, that will never happen" -- except that we have one persuasive example to work from. Wikipedia, whatever flaws you may see in it, built its extraordinary success attracting participation from across the political spectrum and around the world by explicitly avowing "a neutral point of view" and establishing detailed, open, accountable processes for resolving disputes. It can get ugly, certainly, in the most contested subject areas. But it seems, overall, to work.

Fair, Open System

So with MediaBugs, we're renouncing the quick, easy partisan path. We hope, of course, that in return for sacrificing short-term growth we'll emerge with a public resource of lasting value. The individuals participating in MediaBugs bring their own interests and passions into the process. It's the process that we can try to maintain as a fair, open system, as we try to build a better feedback loop for fixing errors and accumulate public data about corrections.

To the extent that we are able to prove ourselves as honest brokers in the neverending conflicts and frictions that emerge between the media and the public, we will create something novel in today's media landscape: An effective tool for media reform that's powered by a dedication to accuracy and transparency -- and that transcends partisan anger.

I know many of you are thinking, good luck with that. We'll certainly need it!

September 08 2010

12:03

Regret the Error editor starts business column

Craig Silverman, editor of Regret the Error, a website which reports on inaccuracies and corrections in the press, has started a fortnightly column for the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism.

Silverman, who already writes a weekly column for the Columbia Journalism Review, told Journalism.co.uk he would be seeking advice from business journalists and editors to inform parts of the ‘Regret the Business Error’ column.

I’m hoping that the column will be a place where business journalists can turn to receive actionable advice for avoiding basic factual errors, and where they can learn about avoiding some of the common mistakes made in business reporting. So it will be a mix of general tips and very specific guidance that works best for business journalists.

In order to do that, I’m going to track down business editors and reporters and do my best to pump them for information and advice.

Anyone who has a tip or piece of advice they would like to share can contact Craig by email – craig [at] craigsilverman.caSimilar Posts:



August 27 2010

14:54

Washington Post Caught Napping at Imaginary Intersection

Of this we can be certain: There is no such thing as the intersection of Mozart Place and 16th Street NW. These two Washington, D.C, thoroughfares in the Adams-Morgan area parallel each other.

So when people who knew the neighborhood read the Washington Post's "Crime Scene" post on Aug. 12 about a homicide in the area, and saw a reference to such a location as the place where the victim was found, they knew something was wrong. In fact, the first three commenters on the story pointed out the mistake.

What happened next was that the Post quickly corrected the goof, noted the fix and moved on. Right?

If only. In fact, the error remains in the online version of the story as I write this, two weeks later. The comments pointing out the mistake sit at the end of the post, without any response or acknowledgment from the Post.

Bug Report

Chris Amico filed a bug about the error at MediaBugs, and we decided to handle it. (Right now we're still primarily serving the San Francisco Bay Area.) We contacted the Post. Two emails and five days later, we got a response from Post deputy managing editor Milton Coleman.

Coleman said the paper planned to "set the record straight." He also pointed out that since the reference to the non-existent intersection was made in a passage attributed to a police spokesman, technically the Post hadn't actually made a mistake, and therefore the Post would publish a clarification, not a correction.

Four days after that, on Sat., Aug. 21, more than a week after the original mistake, the Post did publish a correction. Good luck finding it on the Post website, though. The paper does have a dedicated online corrections page, which is linked from the News menu in the top navigation bar. Yet the Mozart Place correction notice doesn't show up on this listing. Meanwhile, there's also a link to "corrections" in the footer of the Post website, but right now that link points -- inexplicably and uselessly -- to the corrections page for a single day two weeks ago.

So there is some correction confusion at the paper, and it's not easy to find the Mozart Place correction notice. Which wouldn't matter if the Post had bothered to correct the online version of the article (with a link to the correction notice). That, for whatever reason, has not happened yet.

Online First

Is this a really minor error? You bet -- although it does matter to the people who posted comments about it at the Post site and who filed a report at MediaBugs. Don't the editors of the Washington Post have more important stuff to worry about? Undoubtedly. That's my point.

This isn't a complex or politically charged issue requiring legal consultations or editorial huddles. It's a simple matter of fact that's verifiable in half a minute. The more that a news organization like the Post publishes brief, quick-hit items online, the more of this kind of error it's likely to make. Why not streamline the process? The Post calls the Crime Scene report a blog; why can't it function more like one?

Correcting an error of this magnitude shouldn't require days of deliberation, the valuable time of a deputy managing editor, or concern over distinctions between "correction" and "clarification" that are meaningless to the public. It ought to be a simple matter to go in and fix the error on the website, as bloggers routinely do. And if the web editors want to keep this process accountable and transparent, as they should, all they have to do is make revisions to published content accessible. It can be done!

Web corrections ought to happen first; let print catch up. Instead, too often the leisurely gait of the print operation seems to hamstring the website from taking care of things.

When I discuss these ideas with newspaper managers, they usually agree in principle but then point to technical barriers. "Our content management system is so old and clunky," they say. "We just can't do it."

That excuse might have been credible 15, 10, even 5 years ago. But it's time to stop giving news organizations a pass on this account. They've had years to get their technological act together, to think about how to coordinate print and online in general and specifically in the corrections process. If they can't do it today, it's little wonder readers think that accuracy just isn't their priority.

UPDATE August 27: At some point shortly after this post was published (or, conceivably, shortly before), the Washington Post edited the news item in question to remove the reference to the non-existent intersection. There's no mention or record of the change on the page. (Although there is a reference to the item being "updated," this notice has been on the page for roughly two weeks already.)

14:54

Washington Post Caught Napping at Imaginary Intersection

Of this we can be certain: There is no such thing as the intersection of Mozart Place and 16th Street NW. These two Washington, D.C, thoroughfares in the Adams-Morgan area parallel each other.

So when people who knew the neighborhood read the Washington Post's "Crime Scene" post on Aug. 12 about a homicide in the area, and saw a reference to such a location as the place where the victim was found, they knew something was wrong. In fact, the first three commenters on the story pointed out the mistake.

What happened next was that the Post quickly corrected the goof, noted the fix and moved on. Right?

If only. In fact, the error remains in the online version of the story as I write this, two weeks later. The comments pointing out the mistake sit at the end of the post, without any response or acknowledgment from the Post.

Bug Report

Chris Amico filed a bug about the error at MediaBugs, and we decided to handle it. (Right now we're still primarily serving the San Francisco Bay Area.) We contacted the Post. Two emails and five days later, we got a response from Post deputy managing editor Milton Coleman.

Coleman said the paper planned to "set the record straight." He also pointed out that since the reference to the non-existent intersection was made in a passage attributed to a police spokesman, technically the Post hadn't actually made a mistake, and therefore the Post would publish a clarification, not a correction.

Four days after that, on Sat., Aug. 21, more than a week after the original mistake, the Post did publish a correction. Good luck finding it on the Post website, though. The paper does have a dedicated online corrections page, which is linked from the News menu in the top navigation bar. Yet the Mozart Place correction notice doesn't show up on this listing. Meanwhile, there's also a link to "corrections" in the footer of the Post website, but right now that link points -- inexplicably and uselessly -- to the corrections page for a single day two weeks ago.

So there is some correction confusion at the paper, and it's not easy to find the Mozart Place correction notice. Which wouldn't matter if the Post had bothered to correct the online version of the article (with a link to the correction notice). That, for whatever reason, has not happened yet.

Online First

Is this a really minor error? You bet -- although it does matter to the people who posted comments about it at the Post site and who filed a report at MediaBugs. Don't the editors of the Washington Post have more important stuff to worry about? Undoubtedly. That's my point.

This isn't a complex or politically charged issue requiring legal consultations or editorial huddles. It's a simple matter of fact that's verifiable in half a minute. The more that a news organization like the Post publishes brief, quick-hit items online, the more of this kind of error it's likely to make. Why not streamline the process? The Post calls the Crime Scene report a blog; why can't it function more like one?

Correcting an error of this magnitude shouldn't require days of deliberation, the valuable time of a deputy managing editor, or concern over distinctions between "correction" and "clarification" that are meaningless to the public. It ought to be a simple matter to go in and fix the error on the website, as bloggers routinely do. And if the web editors want to keep this process accountable and transparent, as they should, all they have to do is make revisions to published content accessible. It can be done!

Web corrections ought to happen first; let print catch up. Instead, too often the leisurely gait of the print operation seems to hamstring the website from taking care of things.

When I discuss these ideas with newspaper managers, they usually agree in principle but then point to technical barriers. "Our content management system is so old and clunky," they say. "We just can't do it."

That excuse might have been credible 15, 10, even 5 years ago. But it's time to stop giving news organizations a pass on this account. They've had years to get their technological act together, to think about how to coordinate print and online in general and specifically in the corrections process. If they can't do it today, it's little wonder readers think that accuracy just isn't their priority.

July 14 2010

17:32

Help MediaBugs Make News Sites Track, Correct Errors

Imagine you're sitting at the back of a classroom. The lecture is on a fascinating topic -- the American Civil War, say. The professor has started a riveting back-and-forth with students in the front about the Union's initial motivations for fighting. The professor says, "And then Harriet Jacobs wrote 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' which galvanized many northerners in the cause of abolishing slavery. What role do you think Jacobs' book played?"

You cock your head. Harriet Jacobs? It was Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin." You raise your hand to ask for a clarification, but the back-and-forth between the professor and students rolls on; the students debate Jacobs' impact, reinforcing the error. The professor is not calling on you, let alone seeing you -- and Jacobs' name is now forever linked in a dozen students' minds with the wrong book.

This is a light illustration of what can happen when errors of fact are made and reinforced, but it's light only because it's fleeting and somewhat contained. On a news website, however, an uncorrected error can be persistent, countlessly recited, and linked to by a thousand pages. It's a big problem. Error tracking and correction, as Mark Follman and Scott Rosenberg at MediaBugs argue in their new survey and report this week, is a central pillar of the public's trust in news organizations. But thus far online, news organizations are failing to buttress that pillar:

The results of MediaBugs' first survey of Bay Area media-correction practices show that 21 out of 28 news sites examined -- including many of the region's leading daily newspapers and broadcast news outlets -- provide no corrections link on their websites' home pages and article pages. The websites for 17 of the 28 news organizations examined have no corrections policy or substantive corrections content at all.

Sites that do offer corrections-related content frequently make it relatively difficult to find: It is located two or three obscure clicks into the site, or requires visitors to use the site's search function. Once located, the corrections content is, in most cases, poorly organized and not easily navigated.

The Price of Uncorrected Errors

MediaBugs has already made hundreds of corrections happen. But when you're an engaged citizen, seeing an error online and not being able to suggest a correction is like sitting at the back of a classroom, helpless, as your fellow students learn and repeat the wrong thing. You feel somehow lesser, that you're both ignored and ignorant.

That feeling not only breeds mistrust but resentment -- a feeling that the professor or editor must think they know everything, that they don't need you. Yet all they have to do is admit they are human, that corrections are needed and should be easily submitted, tracked, and publicized. That people sometimes make mistakes.

So help MediaBugs fix the news. Browse bugs, report bugs, and above all, bug your local newspaper editors to make it easier to report online errors directly to them.

July 13 2010

17:02

When It Comes to Corrections, Most News Sites Fail

Because web pages are just computer files, news stories on the web can be altered at will after publication. That makes corrections on the web a little more complex than corrections in print -- but it also makes them potentially much more effective. Unlike in print or broadcast, you can fix the original. You can make errors vanish -- though not without a trace, if you're doing it right.

So why do so many news organizations continue to handle their online corrections so poorly? At MediaBugs, where we're devoted to improving the feedback loop between the public and the press, we've just published our first survey of corrections practices at more than two dozen Bay Area news outlets. The report's top-line conclusion? Mostly, they're doing it wrong.

Findings

Three quarters of the 28 news outlets we reviewed provide no corrections-reporting link of any kind on their home or article pages. Even media organizations that show signs of working to handle corrections carefully fall down in various ways -- and lots of others don't look like they're even trying.

Many bury information about how to report errors behind confusing trails of links. Some provide multiple, poorly labeled avenues for feedback without telling readers which ones to use for error reports. Others provide no access to recently corrected articles beyond a search on "corrections," which often turns up multiple stories about prisons.

These findings are disheartening -- not simply for how poorly editors are protecting their readers' trust in them, but also because handling these matters better doesn't take that much effort.

There's really just a small number of things any news website needs to do if it wants to handle corrections and error reports responsibly:

  • Append a note to any article that's been corrected, explaining the change;
  • Keep a list of these changes, linking to the corrected articles, at a fixed location on the site;
  • Post a brief corrections policy, with information about how readers can report errors they find;
  • Make sure that your corrections listing page and your corrections policy (whether they're on the same or different pages) are part of your site navigation -- they should be accessible by one click from any page on your site.

In addition to our survey, we've provided a brief summary of best practices for corrections and error reporting that we hope will be helpful to news site editors and their readers alike.

No More Excuses

Fifteen years ago, in the early days of web publishing, it might have been understandable for editors to have a hard time figuring out how to handle corrections: This pliable medium was new and strange.

But news on the web is no longer in its infancy, and "We're new to this" just doesn't cut it anymore as an explanation for the kind of poor practices our MediaBugs survey documents. The explanations you generally hear are truthful but don't excuse the problems: "Our content management system makes it too hard to do that" or "we just don't have the resources to do that" or "we've been meaning to fix that for a while but never seem to get around to it."

The web excels at connecting people. That's what its technology is for. Yet when it comes to the most basic areas of accuracy and accountability, the professional newsrooms of the Bay Area (and so many other communities) continue to do a poor job of connecting with their own readers.

It's time for news websites to move this issue to the top of their priority lists and get it taken care of. They can do this, in most cases, with just a few changes to site templates and some small improvements in editing procedures. Of course, we hope, once they've done that, that they'll do more: At MediaBugs, we want to see that every news page on the web includes a "Report an Error" button as a standard feature, just like the ubiquitous "Print" buttons, "Share This" links and RSS icons.

MediaBugs offers one easy way to do this -- our error-reporting widget is easy to integrate on any website. You can now see it in action on every story published over at Spot.Us. But there are plenty of other ways to achieve this same end.

As long as readers can quickly and easily find their way to report an error with a single click, we'll be happy. But before we get there, we've all got some basic housekeeping to take care of first. End the suffering of orphaned corrections links and pages now!

June 10 2010

08:11

April 20 2010

18:00

MediaBugs, the Knight-funded error tracker, launches its public beta

Have you ever come across an obvious error in a piece of journalism, only to feel you had no way to fix it? Then today’s your day: MediaBugs, Scott Rosenberg’s Knight News Challenge-winning project, has just moved into its public-beta testing phase. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, have at those errors.

MediaBugs — per the site’s FAQ, “a place on the Web (independent and not-for-profit) where you can bring specific errors, issues and problems you’ve found in media coverage in your community and try to get them fixed” — has been in development, and then in closed-beta mode, for the past several months. (For more background on the project, by the way, see this interview that we conducted with Rosenberg just after he won his $335,000 Knight grant last year, as well as Poynter’s nicely contextualized treatment of the launch.)

In the closed beta, “we’ve been in this very controlled part of the tests, which was mostly about fixing technical problems,” Rosenberg told me. It was about “shaking down our own bugs.”

Now, though, it’s about ceding control of the platform to MediaBugs’ intended users. “Our big challenge now, once we do this, is to just see what kinds of things people are most ‘bugged’ about,” Rosenberg says. It could be small, practical items; it could be copy errors; it could be bigger-picture, controversial ideas. “I’m actually kind of fascinated just to sit back and see, once we make this available, what people end up entering.”

If the most recent bugs reported are any indication, the “what people end up entering” could be a wide range of errors both specific and conceptual. Some of the latest:

Bug #248: Wrong figure used for SF school cutbacks
Bug #243: Redundant usage of “been” in Daily Cal
Bug #238: iPad sales figures mischaracterized (reported by Dan Gillmor)
Bug #232: Controversial remarks by S.F. police chief — what remarks?

MediaBugs has also received off-topic errors, like the “Error of Omission” cited in Bug #173: NY Times misrepresents Dartmouth health-care study? (It’s been found “off-topic” because, at this point, the platform is requesting bugs seen only in Bay Area media organizations.)

But those off-topic errors are things Rosenberg and his staff (currently consisting of associate director Mark Follman) will have to deal with as they enter into public beta. MediaBugs is a platform rather than a program; given that, its success will depend not only on whether, but also (and also more interestingly) on how people use it.

One example that emerged recently: In its listing for the play “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews,” the East Bay Express (the Oakland-area weekly) printed the wrong theater name. “On the one hand, from an editorial perspective, it’s not like something where you’d call in the lawyers and get all worried,” Rosenberg notes of the minor bug; “on the other hand, if you were going to the show that night, and went to the wrong place, you might be a little upset.”

The Express’ listings page has a comments feature — and, indeed, someone had posted a comment on that page informing the paper’s editors and readers that the show’s venue was wrong. But that hadn’t been enough to get the fix in the listing itself. “People say, ‘Don’t we have this feedback loop already with our readers, through comments?’” Rosenberg says; but, then, he notes, “the comments are a mixed bag.” Even in that relatively rare circumstance when users go out of their way to report errors in stories’ comments sections, that’s no guarantee that journalists will see/react to/fix those errors. That’s one of Rosenberg’s arguments for MediaBugs in the first place.

Another is the ability to track errors as they’re noted and dealt with — which is both useful information generally, and a means of fostering accountability among error-making news organizations. The progression of the play venue’s error-tracking, as described on its MediaBugs page, went like this:

Bug Type: Simple Factual Error

Listing for Josh Kornbluth’s show “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” says the show is at the Jewish Community Center in SF, but actually it’s at The Jewish Theater in the Theater Artaud building.

There’s a comment pointing out the error but it’s still showing with the wrong info on the Express home page.

Supporting Information:

This is the page at the Jewish Theater’s site with the correct info:

http://www.tjt-sf.org/shows/west-coast-premiere-of-andy-warhol-good-for-the-jews/

Response

Scott Rosenberg has contacted East Bay Express and received the following response.

East Bay Express’s managing editor said they’d correct this soon!

As of yesterday morning, Rosenberg had posted a comment on the bug’s web page. It said, simply: “This is fixed now!”

March 11 2010

12:03

December 17 2009

16:00

The Post's Public Enemy Gaffe: Why Circle-The-Wagons is a Joke

A lot of virtual ink has already been spilled, by me and others, on the now-infamous Washington Post Public Enemy correction. (If you missed it, the Post ran a correction explaining that a story had "incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number." The correction went viral and inspired a flurry of Twitter responses mocking the paper with other misunderstood hip-hop song titles.)

Before we move on, though, it's worth recording what this incident reveals about the disconnect between newsroom traditions and contemporary reality. A post by the Washington Post ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, on Dec. 11 -- more than two weeks after the error appeared, and a week after the correction was made -- reveals what many knowledgeable readers had already guessed about the incident: the mistake wasn't the fault of the story's writer, who describes herself as someone weaned on hip hop; rather, it was introduced by a copy editor.

Copy editors often save writers' behinds, but they make mistakes, too. I bet everyone involved in this incident at the Post knew exactly what had happened within a few hours. What would the harm have been in immediately posting a brief item on a reporter's blog, or the ombudsman's blog, or appended to the story itself, saying something like, "Whoops! An overeager copy editor who didn't grow up listening to Public Enemy changed '911' to '9/11' in my story yesterday. We'll try to do better next time."

This might not have inoculated the paper against the jokes on Twitter, but it would have better positioned it to accept the jibes in good spirit. As a commenter on a post I wrote on the topic suggested, the Post could even have compiled some of the tweets and published them as a followup.

Instead, the Post followed the circle-the-wagons playbook more appropriate to a Watergate-level power struggle than a little pop-culture gaffe. It waited a week to post the correction, and it was the notice's opacity and stiff tone, as much as the original error, that exposed the paper to ridicule.

Outdated Policy

"You want to be able to defend yourself and you can't," the story's writer, Akeya Dickson, complained to the Post ombudsman. But the only thing gagging the writer was the Post's antiquated rulebook.

Alexander explained that the Post was following its own longstanding policy against finger-pointing in corrections: "We do not assign internal blame for a mistake, such as distinguishing between reporting and editing errors. Ours is a collective enterprise; we share responsibility for our successes, and for our errors."

Perhaps such a policy once made sense. Today it merely confirms the public's belief that newsrooms are impenetrable black boxes, and journalistic enterprises are unaccountable to the public and oblivious to change. Readers understand that journalists are human; unless there's imminent threat of a lawsuit, what's the harm in explaining to your readers how an error got made?

Need For More Collaboration

There is, actually, one problem with such transparency. Admitting that errors are often introduced in the editing process is painful for newsroom traditionalists because it undermines one of the central defenses of professional big-media practices: the notion that layers of editing protocol invariably produce higher-quality journalism.

In fact, the value of editing is inversely proportional to the skill and depth of knowledge of the reporter/writer. Yes, great journalists' work will always benefit from the scrutiny of great editors; but the better the journalist, the less likely it is that she will find herself paired with an editor of her caliber. Too often, the writer is more knowledgeable than the editor, but the editor has final say.

One remedy for such snafus is simply closer collaboration between reporters and the copy desk. In my decade in a daily newsroom, I never understood why this was frowned upon. As an arts critic, I often knew more about what I was covering than the smart generalists on the copy desk. But for the writer to review the edits to his own copy was viewed at best as needless overkill, and at worst as selfish meddling.

Today, there's no denying the value of better and more open communication at every stage of the journalistic process -- between reporters and sources, writers and editors, newsrooms and the public. Any newsroom rule that gets in the way of that communication ought to be put out of its misery.

November 11 2009

15:50

How Do We Categorize All Journalistic Errors?

How many different kinds of errors is it possible for journalists to make? And how would you classify them or organize them into useful categories?

These questions are not my attempt to concoct a tactful paraphrase for "How many different ways is it possible to screw journalism up?" Rather, they represent one of the interesting issues we face as we move work on MediaBugs from the project-organizing phase to the "let's build something" stage.

There's a wealth of established practice in the software field for the kinds of data you can associate with a bug that a user finds in a program: how important the bug is, where the bug is located, how work on it fits in to the rest of the project, and so on. In software development, the purpose of the bug tracking system is, mostly, to define and organize the work of fixing bugs.

As we attempt to apply this model to the world of journalism, we find little in the way of similar established practices in our field. Individual news organizations sometimes track their own errors internally, but, as far as we've been able to determine, there is no common, industry-wide nomenclature for categorizing those errors -- no Library of Congress classification or Dublin Core metadata standard.

We're pretty much on our own. So we're doing our best to devise an initial set of categories, knowing that we'll probably need to revise them once we get real data from real users. (We've already drawn much from the invaluable work of my colleague Craig Silverman, in his book Regret the Error.)

Here's the list of categories we're playing with right now:

  • misquotation
  • mistaken identity
  • other simple factual error
  • ethical issue
  • faulty statistics or math
  • error of omission
  • typo, spelling, grammar
  • other

I'd love to hear what you think of this. Have we left out something obvious? Is this valuable or interesting?

Any set of categories will need to meet two goals:

  1. It should make sense to users who are trying to make quick decisions about categorizing the errors they're reporting.
  2. The breakdown of the total universe of errors that the list provides should ultimately be useful as we try to understand why errors happen, and how we can minimize them.

We know that there's no bright, shining line one can draw between errors of objective fact and subjective problems with media coverage. Errors don't fall into two distinct buckets labeled "fact" and "opinion"; there's a spectrum between the two.

We want MediaBugs to favor the "fact" side of that spectrum, so our choice of categories is weighted in that direction. I believe this is where we'll find the most common ground between journalists and the public, and make the fastest progress in our effort to bring the two together. We'll know a lot more soon!

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl