Correct errors, but also acknowledge them
Is there any evidence that “the speed and the immediacy of the Internet makes it more likely that online news sites will rush information out without careful checking and verification, and therefore be prone to more errors”? Robert Berkman posed that question on Poynter’s “online-news” e-mail list last week.
There are some great responses. David K. Every says the Web’s speed and immediacy actually allows errors to be corrected more quickly when they do occur, rather than waiting 24 hours for the next newspaper. If Web sites lived up to that potential, Every suggests, they could on balance be more accurate than other mediums.
To live up to that potential, I have argued, news sites first have to actually make corrections to the original articles — something some newspapers are not doing. Second, and this is critical, they need to preserve a copy of corrected articles in their original form, with a changelog. Without preserving the original, as Norbert Specker notes on the online-news list, the mistakes never happened. If news sites won’t do it themselves, Specker recommends an “independent body” that would keep copies of pages as they changed.
A section of Beau Dure’s graduate school research project, also mentioned on the online-news list, reminds news sites they violate traditional journalistic values by failing to acknowledge that they made mistakes and/or fixed them:
The Web sites [in Dure’s study], including the newspaper and television Web sites, do not acknowledge the mistake; it is simply removed from the site. This approach is at odds with the traditional approaches shown by the newspaper and television journalists.... Still, some readers will have seen incorrect information and may not be aware of the mistake unless they read the updated version of the same story.
Are there any news sites that do fess up when they make mistakes, in a way that works on the Web? Yes; Adrian Holovaty has found several. But I still haven’t seen any news sites that preserve the articles’ original versions for history. Given how easy that would be in a content management system, are online publishers trying to hide the fact that they make mistakes?