The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

ErrorPedia
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There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing since the start of the Age of Blogs about accuracy. How on earth do we trust anything we read on the Internet? Bloggers can say anything!

Just this year, there was a conference on blogging, journalism, and credibility.

Then there’s been some hand-wringing over the fact that you have to use phrases like “steady downward trend” to describe the recent credibility ratings of newspapers.

I’ve got a proposal.

Imagine: you come across an article on the Web purporting to be journalism or contain elements of journalism. So you cruise on over to StraightenTheRecord.org (or whatever) and you search for the name of the text’s author or publication. Up pops a screen listing all the corrections made on articles by that author or in that publication.

But you’re a tad underwhelmed. You had caught an error of fact in the document you were reading that isn’t listed on this page.

So you log in to the site and edit the record (it being some sort of a wiki), adding your correction to the stack.


The idea is like a mishmash of OpenSecrets.org and FactCheck.org for journalism. The site would make no distinctions between labels like “blogger,” “journalist,” “podcaster,” or “Googling monkey.” If you produce a record that you claim is a work of reported fact, then someone can come to this site and fact-check your ass.

I imagine the wiki being viewable by anyone, but editable only by members, so people would be required to take some ownership of their corrections. Membership, of course, would be free to all.

Seeds of this can be found in the nascent adopt-a-journalist movement that started to coalesce in the run-up to last year’s election. And Poynter’s Larry Larsen suggested something very much like this to me last year; he said every reporter should have a page listing all his or her corrections.

Today, The New York Times printed five corrections; and I’m guessing the paper featured many more mistakes — misspellings, misstatements, misrepresentations — that were reported only in someone’s living room. How awesome would it be if there were a centralized spot for the record to be corrected?

Ditto for blogs. Out-of-control rumors might spawn fewer inaccurate tidbits of info if each person who repeated the rumor knew she might be adding a blot to her record.

5 comments

That’s a great idea.

it could also be categorized or sorted by publication for newspapers and websites. New York Times would have a corrections tally for all their writers so you’d know as a whole how reliable it is, and then you could go to a specific person.

something else to keep track of are the correctors’ corrections. if a member goes on a correcting spree, but makes a bunch of mistakes in the corrections, you probably wouldn’t trust his fixes very much.

of course at this point you’re also getting somewhat recursive…

Why not make this a distributed system, so people can just create fact-check or correction blogposts (or Flickr entries, or whatever) which are then aggregated Google- or Technorati-style?

We were talking about a “rel=proof” tag before; maybe we need a “rel=correction” too?

Or is there some advantage to having all of this take place in one ‘place’?

Could be a project for WikiCities? In fact, there’s already http://journalism.wikicities.com/wiki/Main_Page

Kevin, that whole who-watches-the-watchmen problem is one main reason I see this working within a membership system. People making corrections should have a modicum of accountability for doing so.

I don’t think this one would work decentralized. A “rel=correction” tag might work for auxiliary conversations about corrections (I imagine each author page would have a threaded discussion area for people who don’t have a factual error to report, per se, but maybe have some more nuanced critiques of the author’s reporting, or want to add context to a factually sound article, etc.). But for several reasons, I think this would have to be a centralized, independent project.

Part of the point of it is that this website would be the one place you’d have to go to get the dirt on an author, the way we go to Snopes to check out urban legends, or OpenSecrets to check out political donations. And one of the problems that this website would attempt to remedy is that this phenomenon is already being dispersed through the blogosphere, but it’s very scattershot. You’ve got a WilgorenWatch here, a Daily Howler there, and bloggers fact-check each other all over the place. But I’d have to go tramping through the blogosphere for three hours searching for some combination of “KevinDrum corrections SocialSecurity” before I could see whether anyone’s looked into the figures cited on the latest Political Animal post.

Flickr and Technorati are great for serendipity-doo, but just try finding specific hard data by flitting through a folksonomy. ph34r.

Also, people start and end blogs every other minute. If you’re trying to create a permanent-ish archive of a person’s factual record, you entrust it to an awfully ephemeral sphere if you leave it to individual blogs.

Also, it’s not just blogs. The New York Times is not going to be excited about seeding the RSS feed for their corrections page with a “rel=corrections” tag. And even if you can get the Gray Lady on board, I can pretty much assure you that The Fresno Bee will never put “rel=anything” on anything. Ever.

I say “some sort of a wiki” instead of just flat-out calling it a wiki because I think there would need to be more structure than your typical wiki’s got: I’d want the corrections to be categorized, by reporter, publication, article headline, and type of correction (is it a misspelling? a distortion? a factual error? a numerical miscalculation?). After all, say these two authors both have 45 corrections posted. You want to be able to know at a glance which author has 38 misspellings and which one has 43 distortions, right?

Okay, you’ve convinced me. I do totally want to see the ‘Top Ten Worst Name Manglers’ listed in dynamic & reliable fashion.

But yeah, that just makes independence a huge issue — such a site would have to be scrupulously independent & legit in its management & finances.

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