corrections
The Canadian Association of Journalists Ethics Committee has released a set of guidelines for updating and correcting information published online.  Kathy English at the Toronto Star and Craig Silverman were the primary authors. I was a minor voice on the committee.

This is the first comprehensive statement on best practices that we know of. Craig Silverman in particular has argued for years that news organizations need to be more transparent about how they handle corrections.

How does a reader know if information in a story was changed? Is there a difference between reporting a typo or an error of fact? Should all stories, no matter how old — be updated? The guiding principle of the document is transparency — that we don’t simply “scrub” content and hope that no one has noticed.

These are some of the questions we tried to address. Two key recommendations are:

When we verify factual errors in digital content, we should amend the copy to make it correct. In all but the most insignificant errors, we should also append a clearly visible note to the article to tell readers that the material was changed/edited/corrected from a previously published version and provide explicit details about what was corrected. For example: An earlier version of this article misstated the overnight price of a litre of gas as $2.40.

and

We have the ability – and responsibility – to correct digital content as soon as we verify something is wrong and no matter how long ago it was published. There is no time limit on making things right.

The report follows a document that addressed a similar issue — “unpublishing” content.

We’re hoping this document becomes a foundation for news organizations to establish and build their own policies for how they publish, update and correct content.

A panel discussing the Arab revolutions described a complicated situation for journalists trying to determine who is reliable and what is true.

The discussion at the Online News Association conference in Boston involved NPR’s Andy Carvin, reporter Issandr El-Amrani, the American Islamic Congress’s Nasser Weddady and our own King’s Journalism alumnus Rehab El-Bakry, who is an Egyptian journalist.

“Some of my best sources were those most active in the revolution,” Carvin said. “You have to take some of what they say with a grain of salt.”

To balance his coverage, he tried to follow as many different people as possible. “When you’re reading tweets from 20 activists and they’re all tweeting the same thing, you can start to take it at face value.”

El-Bakry said a challenge is the lack of a history of impartial reporting in the region: “You’re talking about six to seven generations of journalists who have no idea how to report objectively.”

Amrani took issue with El-Bakry’s characterization of the Egyptian media, saying there is a diversity of opinion: “It’s a constant fight. You have factions within papers. It’s not fair to call them doormats.”

As a result, Carvin said verifying information needs to be a collaborative effort and he characterized his use of Twitter as “an open-source newsroom.” He said he uses a lot of question marks and tries to get his audience to confirm as many aspects as they can.

 

 

Journalists need to take advantage of the vast array of information that the U.S. gov’t is already making available.

That was the message Vivek Kundra, the first federal Chief Information Officer in the Obama administration, brought to the Online News Association conference in Boston this morning.

On data.gov, there is information on a huge range of government activity but there hasn’t been a big pickup, he said. Journalists need to adapt themselves to tell the stories buried in digital data. Some news organizations are innovating, he added. But others are ignoring change at their peril.

“There is a battle for the soul of the future of journalism,” he said. “Do you want to be Amazon or Barnes and Noble?”

The data miners will be the ones telling some of the best stories, he said. He added that reporters need to access the incredible volume of information governments collect about everyday life.

“If you look at what ‘s happening in the world today, everything is being instrumented” — from the times buses are running to wait times in hospitals, he said.

An emerging role for journalists is taking this data and separating noise from signal.

He said in his work in the Obama government, he tried to push departments to put their information in the cloud.  He identified about US$20 billion in services that could move to cloud but  he faced tough resistance from the “old guard,” which were protective of existing — hidden from the public — data storage and management practices.

Governments, he said, should embrace private cloud services providers for data because it’s cheaper and government can’t compete for the expertise of top-notch security engineers.

 

 

 

Sharing ToolsIn its 2009 website redesign, the Globe and Mail got rid of a link on the front page that listed all of the stories contained in the print version of the paper that day.

Of all the changes to the website, that was the one that affected me most. It always seemed that the beefiest stories were there — the ones I was inclined to remember — even if I looked more often at the parade of breaking news on the front page.

Of course, that link simply let me read the “print” stories online. But I felt more informed, knowing I had read the stories the editors, considering the space restrictions in a print edition, thought were most important that day. In a time before there were social media interaction statistics, the role of the editor was significant.

A study presented this month by three University of Oregon researchers provides further evidence in a growing body of research suggesting that readers pay attention to the agenda-setting function exercised by editors. The authors, Santana, Livingstone and Cho, conclude in their paper that: “Print news readers remember significantly more news stories than online news readers.”

Specifically, they suggest that the choice readers have online to follow their own interest leaves them less able to gauge a story’s significance.

They state:

Online newspapers are apt to give fewer cues about the news story’s importance, thus giving readers more control over story selection. In this way, part of the agenda-setting function of the newspaper is lost in the online version.

Wisdom of the crowds” logic would suggest that readers can compensate for the weakened influence of editors by using other readers’ reactions in social media as a guide. For example, they could use the numbers of Facebook Likes, retweets and comments visible in a story’s social media toolbar to gauge story importance.

However, this appears not to have been a major factor in the current research.

Why? It might be because the news source used in the test was the New York Times, chosen by the researchers because it “has historically offered content that is considered trustworthy, complete and balanced” and it was likely to be familiar to students.

However, relative to many mainstream news sources, the Times offers weak reporting of story interaction statistics. Only the number of comments appear on a typical story like this one — and the number isn’t prominent on the page.

Take a look at this LA Times story, which has a more active social media toolbar at the top of the story reporting retweets, shares, comments and Facebook Recommends. The Huffington Post reports social media statistics even more prominently on its stories.

The influence of one’s own social media network is likely to be a great influence as well. Seeing a story retweeted and commented upon by one’s peers is bound to affect the reader’s assessment of its importance. So, comparing print and online stories in isolation from their social context may be an increasingly inadequate way of assessing importance or recall.

It will be insightful to see a study conducted using more integration with social media to see if the influence of readers’ peers is as significant as that of editors’.

 

Which is the more important aspect of a story — the article headline or the byline?

The answer would have been a easy a few years ago: the headline, of course. It’s the link people click on and the words they search for. But as social media becomes more integrated with content, the author is becoming a more important part of a web page.

Forbes.com announced last week a re-designed article page that displays an author’s bio, social media presence and past posts much more prominently. It also introduced a so-called Comment Strip below the headline that “more deeply integrates the content creator’s community on the page” by showing thumbnails of commenters’ avatars.

Take a look at this article by Meghan Casserly. The  author’s name and a brief bio are above the headline — a rare thing for a news publication. The right-hand sidebar contains an extended bio of Casserly and highlights from her recent discussions with commenters.

Forbes is betting that the future of digital journalism lies in transactions with readers and that those discussions will lead to better journalism. Mathew Ingram made the same point yesterday in his post Memo to newspapers: The future of media is a two-way street.

Is the Casserly page more about her or her story on interview questions? The answer isn’t obvious.

Forbes is, in essence, moving away from the concept of a standalone story on its site and toward the idea of a story being part of the author’s ongoing stream of content.

Google had a related idea with its Living Stories experiment that ended last year — but it completely missed the social media aspect to journalism. Its partnership with the Washington Post and the New York Times attempted to create topic pages that were updated automatically with new developments. But the new content was created only by journalists.

Two years later, leading-edge publishers are trusting that reporters — and their audience — can supply content that is at least as important as the original story itself.

Google began displaying author names in search results in 2009. Last month it released authorship markup tools that aim to link related content to individual authors. The next step would be to link social media discussions to the same authors.

The path itself leads toward a future of the author as brand — a brand perhaps at least as important as the publication itself.