Fact Checking vs. Rapid Corrections: Which Is More Important?

from the reporting-vs.-conversations dept

A bunch of folks have been pointing to a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, discussing the speed and style with which some “mainstream” media sources and some “new media” sources corrected a particular story. Apparently a newspaper in Arizona misreported some comments by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the misquote was picked up by numerous blogs and online news sites. However, once it became clear what had happened, the new media sites were much faster to issue corrections, while making it clear what was corrected (often leaving the original up and noting the correction). The mainstream paper — who originated the story — was much slower about fixing things, and when it did, simply deleted the mistaken part at first, before later putting up a vague note about the change.

To some extent, I believe this shows the different mindsets of some of these newer publications. I’ve talked in the past about how I view this blog as a conversation, not a reporting venue. And, as such, I don’t delete stuff, even when it turns out that I made a mistake. Instead, I’ll do a strikethrough or cross out, along with an update explaining what happened. I don’t think it’s right to simply “disappear” the original — though I’ve had some traditional journalists (and one Hollywood lawyer) act as if I had done something horrible in using a strikethrough on mistaken content.

And yet, personally, I’ve found that, while I hate it when a story is wrong, the fact that I correct such stories fully and openly has built up greater trust. The few times we’ve needed to correct such a story, the response has almost always been universally positive rather than negative. As mentioned above, it’s like the difference between a conversation and old-school reporting. Old school reporting sought to be “the source of record.” A conversation is more about learning as you go. In a conversation, I might say something — and the person/people I’m talking to may correct me, and from that we all learn. But for traditional reporters, such an error is seen as a huge black mark that requires rewriting history and “disappearing” the mistake — rather than leaving it there, with a clear update, so that everyone can learn.

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Comments on “Fact Checking vs. Rapid Corrections: Which Is More Important?”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: 1984 Called

“And they expect that by tomorrow this issue will have never been discussed.”

There in lies the problem … If news types allow open discussion on their sites people will correct them …. people correcting them shows they make mistakes …. them making mistakes shows they don’t fact check, are just rehashing press statements, re-quoting reports that have been disproven, or are just political toadies ….

… the point is they can’t open up and allow unlimited open comments where people correct them, if they did everyone would see how biased, politically motivated and wrong they are…. then who would our spoon fed, ignorant, public go to for news.

drkkgt (profile) says:

Re: balance?

Totally agree – and I agree with Mike that it shouldn’t be hidden. The old school journalists remind me of my boss, who is an old school engineer. He chastises people for using pens and not pencils because he says the pen is an arrogant tool and it implies that you don’t make mistakes. I replied that I use a pen so that if I make a mistake, I have to line it out and correct it NOT erase it and hide it. This way, I try to take extra care not to make the mistake but own up to it if I do. He has never bothered me about my pens since.

LostSailor (profile) says:

Both, of course.

I agree completely about blogging being more about a conversation than just reporting.

But the answer to your headline is “Both.” Today’s rush to be first often trumps being correct. And while everyone makes mistakes and errors, which should be correctly clearly and plainly when they are recognized, fewer corrections would be necessary if a story or blog post were checked, even cursorily, before hitting the “post” or “print” button.

Even on Techdirt, following links to the stories being reported on, and the links those stories contain, often reveals that the facts may be different than originally assumed or that the answers to questions posed or issues raised are contained in the original documents, not the stories written about those original documents.

Grey Ferret says:

But it won't "Disappear"

It’s important to be accurate in the first place, but equally important to correct any mistakes as they are known.

But, I agree with Mike, mistakes should be struck out and corrections noted along side the original work. The idea that you can simply hit the Delete key and pretend it never happened is a joke. Once you put your work out there, it’s out there for good. As noted, several other sites picked up on the work and you don’t have the ability to “disappear” those sites.

So, just admit your mistakes. It makes you seem more human and thus easier to relate to.

BAlbrecht (profile) says:

Both have great value.

Breaking News is of very high value, and in many cases an exclusive perspective should not be discounted simply for a lack of corroboration. However, 2 elements must be taken into consideration, IMO:
–You must be willing to publicly and prominently amend the record (e.g., strikethroughs with corrections immediately following).
–You still must consider the implications of “getting it wrong.” For example, if your original story is likely to cause irreparable damage to someone’s reputation or livelihood, you have an ethical obligation to obtain further corroboration.

If you fail to do either, your own reputation will rightly be tarnished. I can think of several MSM sources I no longer follow due to their violation of one or both of these basic tenets.

Bill Byrne (user link) says:

the damage is done

I understand the need to be quick, but when the wrong info is put out there, the damage is hard to correct. What if someone doesn’t go back to a particular site for days… they already have the wrong information ingrained in their head.

Oh, for all the journalists reading this, you may get a kick out of this clip:

Anonymous Coward says:

The biggest problem with fast and wrong is that it often ends up hijacking the story, to the point that the truth isn’t any more important than someone yelling “not a fire” in the crowded room after someone else yells “fire!”.

If nothing else, perhaps this is another way to seperate actual media from “chatting bloggers” – bloggers have no real problem with getting it wrong over and over again.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If nothing else, perhaps this is another way to seperate actual media from “chatting bloggers” – bloggers have no real problem with getting it wrong over and over again.

The point was that bloggers do have a serious problem with getting things wrong — which is why they tend to be faster and more honest in their corrections.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

But a correction after the harm is done doesn’t have the same net effect as waiting a few more minutes to get a fuller take on the story.

A good example would be Perez Hilton pushing a story about Michael Jackson faking a heart attack so that he wouldn’t have to perform in the UK. Had he waited a very few minutes, he would have known that the guy was in fact dead. His crass and rude comments left him looking like a fool. Had anyone taken him seriously, they might have missed the real story.

A discussion between friends that people mistake for being actual news is very dangerous.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:

Give me a break

It’s been over ten years, and we still regularly see references to things like “Saddam kicking the UN inspectors out” in Dec. 1998. And during all the reporting on “Russian aggression” in Aug. 2008, how many times do you recall a CNN or Fox News anchor mentioning that Georgia actually started the whole thing?

Shit, the mainstream press doesn’t even NEED a fucking fact checker, because almost all its column inches are verbatim cut-and-paste jobs from public spokemen and corporate PR departments.

Bloggers and fact-checkers ARE the fact checkers.

David (user link) says:

Blogging as Journalism

I fall into the blogging as journalism camp – though not literally. I believe that small errors should be corrected in situ, and updates or additions require appropriate notification and adding on to the article. I go into detail in this article on my blog.

I don’t think anyone has mentioned Wikinews which not only provides “live” editing and so forth of news articles, but also has a complete history so you could see every edit and change made. However, I couldn’t find references to Scalia’s “misquote” in either Wikinews or Wikipedia…

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