Monday, December 6, 2010

More on corrections - what is and what should never be

I figured that I'd poke around the tubes and see how others handled blog corrections, and I ran across this example from Roger Pielke Jr.

On September 1, Pielke wrote a blog post. Based upon the URL of the post, it appears that the original title of the post was "Fabricated Quote in the Daily Mail." In brief, the original post stated that the Daily Mail attributed a quote to Pielke that was not Pielke's.

However, by the time that I saw the post, the request for correction itself had a correction. Yes, the Daily Mail did attribute a quote to Pielke that was not his, but it was not a "fabricated" quote:

Incorrect Quote in The Daily Mail

[UPDATED: Benny Peiser emails me to explain that the quote was in fact his, and that he wrote The Daily Mail requesting a correction. The online version of the story has been corrected, but unfortunately the printed version has the error. I have no idea how the mistake occurred, but I have thus updated this post and its title to reflect the apparent sloppiness rather than malfeasance. I have also noted that the error now only exists in the print edition. Thanks Benny for the quick reply to my query.]

The corrected Daily Mail post, by the way, can be found here. If you're interested in the climate change debate, you may want to read it, and to read what Benny Peiser said.

So where do we stand at the end of this?

The Daily Mail corrected its original article, although it did not acknowledge that a correction was made. (Sound familiar?)

According to a comment to Pielke's original post, the author of the Daily Mail article (Fiona MacRae) sent an autoreply to Pielke's original inquiry. It' unclear whether MacRae, or the Daily Mail, had any further discussion with Pielke.

As noted above, Pielke corrected his original post. Rather than preserving the original mistake, he changed the incorrect text (and title) and noted at the beginning of the post that changes had been made. This differs from the approach that I take, but an argument can be made that Pielke's approach is the better one.

(However, Pielke couldn't change all of the inaccuracies; as I noted above, the URL for the post contains the word "fabricated," but there's no good way to change that without some significant effort. And most people wouldn't notice anyway.)

But there was another item noted in Pielke's blog, and it shows a significant change in the way things are done today.

30 years ago, if this mistake had been made, the edition of the paper that included the mistake would be preserved forever. Of course, the next day a retraction could be run by the paper, but by then the damage would have been done.

I have no idea whether the Daily Mail ran a printed retraction of the inaccurate source of the quote; I couldn't find any such retraction online. But at least those of us who only read the Daily Mail online will never encounter the original mistake. This could be a good thing, since the mistake can be partially (but not completely) removed. Of course it could also be a bad thing, since accurate information could be partially (but not completely) wiped out by subsequent editing.

Technology is ethically neutral, and the ability to replace online text with other online text is not in and of itself a good or a bad thing. It all depends upon how we use the technology.

P.S. In case you didn't see my Saturday post regarding corrections, I suggested three ways to deal with an inaccuracy: (1) don't state inaccurate information in the first place; (2) preserve the mistake but acknowledge that it is a mistake (what I do); and (3) correct the mistake but don't acknowledge that a mistake was made (what the Daily Mail appears to have done, and what Sarah Lacy did). Pielke practiced a fourth way to handle the situation - correct the mistake AND acknowledge that a mistake was made. A fifth way was suggested by Jim Ulvog in a comment - use strikethrough over the incorrect text.

P.P.S. If you're looking for a Led Zeppelin song, see this Sunday post in my Empoprise-MU music blog.
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