Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to correct a mistake - the @1938media @sarahcuda @techcrunch "Ivy League" story, and my Judith Griggs story

I hadn't looked at Loren Feldman's Twitter feed in a while, so I was reading past entries and found this one from early Saturday morning:

I didnt even go to college and I know Stanford is not Ivy league. Sigh. Just so stupid constantly.

The link went to a TechCrunch post that was written by Sarah Lacy on Friday. And after reading the post, I wasn't sure what Feldman was talking about. Here's a screen shot of how the post started when I read it:

But then I read on to the comments and saw a lot of comments discussing the fact that Stanford is not an Ivy League university. Which got me to wondering - was the post edited after its original publication?

A Google search confirmed my suspicions:

So when Google captured the post - and when Feldman read it - the post clearly identified Stanford as an Ivy League school. By the time I saw it, the post had been corrected.

Now the part that concerns me isn't the fact that Lacy made a mistake. Heaven knows that I've made plenty of mistakes myself. The part that concerns me is that the correction was not acknowledged.

If I were running AOL, I would have made sure that the edited post contained an acknowledgment of the error, and (if warranted) an apology. After all, that's what (so-called) real journalists do. And even unreal journalists like me do it, most recently...well, just a few weeks ago.

Here's the top of my November 9 post, including a November 16 edit.

The inaccurate statement occurred at the bottom of that post, and the correction appears afterwards.

In essence, I raised a question about something that Judith Griggs had said, but subsequently discovered that the question that I raised was not legitimate. I chose to preserve the original statement that I made, and followed it with a correction. (I also acknowledged the correction in a separate post - a post, coincidentally, which quotes Sarah Lacy.)


However, there are two alternate strategies that I could have pursued.

The best strategy - and I bet that Loren Feldman would have supported this wholeheartedly - would be not to make a mistake in the first place. Lacy shouldn't have written the original text that said that Stanford was in the Ivy League. I shouldn't have written a post that cast doubt on Judith Griggs' charitable contribution. The Tribune shouldn't have loudly declared the Dewey won the 1948 election.

But mistakes do happen, and perhaps the argument could be made that the mistake should be correctly quietly, without acknowledgment. This doesn't really affect Lacy's mistake - Stanford probably doesn't care if someone incorrectly refers to it as an Ivy League school - but in my case, it's more germane. Because of the way in which I corrected my mistake, the false allegation about Judith Griggs still remains easily accessible. Sure, it's followed by a bold statement in the following paragraph, but people have been known to perform selective reading before, and it's easy enough for someone to quote my November 9 paragraph without quoting my November 16 correction.

But I still believe that I did the right thing by preserving the mistake, then boldly (literally) noting that it was wrong. One of the reasons that this was the right thing to do is because even if I made the correction, there is probably a copy of my original November 9 post floating around somewhere that contains the original error. That's the reality of today's web - caches and copies and everything else exist that not only show what the web says today, but also show what the web said yesterday. Mistakes cannot be hidden. The fact that I could easily uncover the text from the original version of Lacy's post demonstrates this. And the fact that several people have commented on the original mistake shows that such a mistake can't be hidden.

P.S. Before posting this, I scanned through the comments to see if Lacy or anyone from Techcrunch discussed the "Ivy League" mistake. I found comments regarding two additional errors in the article. Oops. I did find one comment, though, which appears to be from TechCrunch itself and regards spelling errors:

Elin Blesener [Moderator] 1 day ago in reply to Iamammoman

Hey guys.. he was just stating his opinion and I'm sure this is just a big misunderstanding. In all honesty, sometimes we want to get the news and the article out as fast as we can so you can all read and enjoy it. I understand though so I'll make sure we are more careful with spelling.
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