The journalism industry ships lemons every day. Our newsrooms have a massive quality control problem. According to the best counts we have, more than half of stories contain mistakes -- and only 3 percent of those errors are ever fixed. Errors small and large litter the mediascape, and each uncorrected one undermines public trust in news organizations. In Pew's last survey in September 2009, only 29 percent of Americans believed that the press "get the facts right." Yet the tools and techniques to fix this problem are known and simple. I've been working in this area for the last two...more »
Idea Lab is a group blog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the Digital Age.
Each Idea Lab blogger is a winner of the Knight News Challenge grant to reshape community news.Learn more about the Knight News Challenge »
A window of opportunity is open right now for online journalists to build accuracy and accountability into the publishing systems we use every day. To understand why this is such a big deal, first hop with me for a minute into the Wayback Machine. It's the mid-1990s. Journalists have just arrived on the web. They're starting sites like Hotwired and Pathfinder, Salon and Slate. They're doing good work, but also, inevitably, making mistakes. Their customary corrections routine -- post a notice in the next edition or issue -- makes no sense in the new medium, where stories are just files...more »
Jonathan Stray has opened a new conversation about measuring accuracy in news reports. Stray, who works at the Associated Press and blogs on the side, comes at the issue with a refreshingly analytical, data-driven perspective. His in-depth post, which I urge you to read, does a couple of things. It summarizes important research: There seems to be no escaping the conclusion that, according to the newsmakers, about half of all American newspaper stories contained a simple factual error in 2005. And this rate has held about steady since we started measuring it seven decades ago. And it offers some useful...more »
Beginning Monday, every new staff-written article on the Washington Post's website came with a prominent link labeled "YOUR FEEDBACK: Corrections, suggestions?" One click takes the reader to a form for reporting errors or providing other feedback to the newsroom. This makes the Post the first major U.S. news outlet to heed the call that MediaBugs, Craig Silverman and I made with the Report an Error Alliance, urging news sites to make this sort of link a standard feature, like the now-ubiquitous "share" and "print" links. The Back Story Actually, Post managing editor Raju Narisetti explained in an email that the...more »
Last week Salon.com, a publication I helped edit for many years, officially retracted "Deadly Immunity," a 2005 story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that had promoted scientific research (never very persuasive and now widely discredited) linking autism to preservatives once used in vaccines. It's not often that publications go back and fix this sort of problem. It's painful to admit error; the public rarely keeps track of past sins; and journalists generally work facing forward. Every now and then you do encounter massive cleanups of the record like this one, which ran in a Kentucky paper in 2004: "It has...more »
We're entering one of those fertile, exciting periods when the fundamentals of publishing are, yet again, undergoing massive revisions thanks to new technology. This time the trigger takes the form of the growing understanding that our consumption of news and information -- still in mid-transition from print and broadcast to digital platforms -- is migrating yet again, from our desktops to mobile devices. Yet publishers and newsrooms still haven't fully digested or adapted to all the changes stemming from the first wave of change. In the realm I've been working on lately, the error-correction process, news organizations are still only...more »
The web is a two-way medium. But when it comes to reporting errors on news sites, too often, it might as well be broadcast or print. It's time to change that. That's why, yesterday, we announced the launch of the Report an Error Alliance -- an ad hoc coalition of news organizations and individuals who believe that every news page on the web ought to have a clearly labeled button for reporting errors. Today's articles come with their own array of buttons for sharing -- and print and email and so on. We believe that opening a channel for...more »
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...more »
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...more »
News organizations' default response to criticism is to circle the wagons. "We stand by our story!" is a stirring thing to say, and sometimes it's even the right thing. But in the web world of 2010, where everyone has a public platform, ignoring critics can also squander a news outlet's credibility and alienate its audience. The basic premise of MediaBugs -- which I laid out in this video -- is that news organizations can begin winning back the public trust they have lost by engaging civilly, in public, with people who criticize them about specific errors. Whoever is right...more »
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,...more »
Why do so many journalists find it so hard to handle public criticism? If you're an athlete, you're used to it. If you're an artist, critics will regularly take you down. If you are in government, the pundits and now the bloggers will show no mercy. If you're in business, the market will punish you. In all these cases, the seasoned professional learns to deal with it. But over and over today, we encounter the sorry spectacle of distinguished reporters losing it when their work is publicly attacked -- or columnists sneering at the feedback they get in poorly moderated...more »
Our public beta of MediaBugs.org has been open for about three weeks now. We're still tinkering with our interface, coping with problems at our Internet service provider, and working on plans to increase participation. But we've already got some fascinating results from our experiment. Here's what I think is the most interesting one so far: The first two errors that we helped get corrected were (1) a listing in the East Bay Express that provided the wrong location for a theater event; and (2) a reference in a TechCrunch story to the wrong police department. In both of these cases,...more »
Joel Spolsky wrote his final blog post last week. If you're not in the software field, you might not know Spolsky's name. But since 2000 his Joel on Software blog has been explaining the intricacies of programming with clarity and humor for an audience of both insiders and novices. Joel on Software served as a model example of how blogging liberated experts in myriad fields, enabling them to school readers without taking the shortcuts that so often mar conventional coverage of their subjects. A good many technology journalists, myself included, got any number of crash courses from Spolsky's posts, on...more »
Two high-profile cases of plagiarism made recent headlines -- one at the New York Times, one at the Daily Beast. In each case, the plagiarist expressed confusion and surprise when confronted with the evidence, and in each case, he blamed the speed of Internet-era reporting and the cut-and-paste tools that make lifting someone else's words so easy. I think we all need to remember that, "Every plagiarist says it was accidental." Those aren't my words. That's why I put them in quotes and linked to the place where Steve Buttry said them. When I first read Buttry's words I copied...more »
It may be impolitic to admit this, but I'm weary of the Great News Business Model Hunt. For those journalists who have just woken up to the changes in their industry, I know that this issue couldn't be more fascinating and pertinent. But if you worked in the news business on the web from the start, as I did at Salon.com beginning in 1995, this hunt has become an overly familiar routine and, at its worst, a rite of futility. Over the course of the decade I spent at Salon, we tried it all -- pay walls, partial and total;...more »
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...more »
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...more »
As a student journalist working for my high school and college newspapers, I learned basic reporting from a strict rulebook. I can still recall my truculent resentment at one particular rule: why did we have to include the middle initial whenever we mentioned somebody's name? What a pain to have to ask for it each time! What an invitation to introduce a trivial error! On one level, of course, the middle-initial rule was, even then, a pretentious holdover from a bygone era of compulsivity, and today those lonesome capital letters are less and less commonly seen in print and on...more »
I think newspapers, blogs, and magazines should all be doing audio versions. I grew up enjoying and listening to audiobooks and now I don't have the same option for the short form content that I prefer to consume.
MediaShift delivers the best news on media and technology directly to your in-box.