Craig Silverman

Craig Silverman (craig@craigsilverman.ca) is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification. The blog moved to The Poynter Institute in December 2011, and he joined as Adjunct Faculty. He also serves as Director for Content for Spundge, a content curation and creation platform used by newsrooms and other organizations. Craig has been a columnist for the Toronto Star, Columbia Journalism Review, The Globe And Mail and BusinessJournalism.org. He’s the former managing editor of PBS MediaShift, and was part of the team that launched OpenFile.ca, a Canadian online news start-up. His journalism and books have been recognized by the Mirror Awards, National Press Club, Canadian National Magazine Awards, and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.


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New service will rate the authenticity of digital images

By the time an image makes its way online, it could have been opened and processed in any number of applications, passed through various hands, and been remixed and manipulated.

Today a new image hosting service, Izitru, is launching to give people new ways to certify the authenticity of a digital image. It’s also a tool that journalists can use to help verify images.

The Izitru website and iOS app can “distinguish an original JPEG file captured with a digital camera from subsequent derivations of that file that may have been changed in some way,” according to the company.

It mixes forensic image analysis with elements of crowdsourcing and human oversight. Izitru also has an API that will enable other services to integrate its technology.

Confirming provenance

The service is a new offering from Fourandsix Technologies, Inc., a company I previously wrote about. It’s founded by Kevin Connor, a former vice president of product management for Photoshop, and Dr. Hany Farid, a leading image forensics expert. Their initial product, FourMatch, was a verification extension for Adobe Photoshop.

Anyone can use Izitru as a place to host their images and to have their photos subjected to a series of six forensic tests that result in a publicly visible “trust rating.” The Izitru iOS app can also take photos and have them uploaded directly to the site. Watch it in action:

izitru: Real photos. Without a doubt. from Fourandsix on Vimeo.

One important note about the six tests the site performs: they are geared toward “proving that a file is the original from a camera, rather than trying to prove it has been manipulated,” Connor said. It’s not about determining whether something has been Photoshopped.

These automated tests help with one important element of photo verification: provenance. You want to know who took the image and whether that image came directly from a digital camera. By shooting with the Izitru app, it ensures the photo is an original from the phone’s camera. The Izitru website can also be used by journalists to upload and test a photo.

“From a journalism standpoint, one of the challenges … is that once files get distributed on social media sites, they automatically get re-compressed and modified to the point that we can’t verify them any more,” Connor told me in an email.

Images are also often scraped and altered, making it incredibly difficult to determine the original creator.

Others have recognized this problem. Scoopshot, a crowdsourced photography service, last year launched a photography app with an authenticity rating system. Vice journalist Tim Pool recently launched Taggly, an app that watermarks and attributes images before they get shared online.

A sample image uploaded to Izitru.

A ‘trust rating’ for images

Connor said that with Izitru they want to “encourage people to verify their important photos before they’re distributed. This uses an evolution of the same technology that is in our first product, FourMatch, but with the addition of five additional forensic tests.”

In addition to those tests, which result in a trust rating being added, anyone viewing the image can push a “challenge” button to indicate their view that the image may not be authentic. Enough challenges will result in Connor’s team doing additional analysis. If they determine the image has been manipulated, they will apply a No Trust rating. (The No Trust rating can only be applied after human analysis.)

Their ratings from high to low are: High Trust, Medium Trust, Undetermined File History, Potential File Modification and No Trust.

“Though we can’t commit to looking at every challenged file, we’ll certainly look at any file that gets a significant number of challenges,” Connor said.

He continued:

At that point, we can apply some of our other tests–such as clone detection, lighting analysis, etc. If we see a reason to adjust our rating, then we’ll do so and add a note to this effect on the page. If we see clear evidence the image content has been manipulated, then we’ll apply a No Trust rating. The Challenge button is a community feedback mechanism for us that will allow us to continue to refine our automated testing approach as well.

It’s only by challenging an image and getting the Izitru team to perform additional tests and analysis that possible manipulation can be detected.

“Unfortunately, the tests that detect specific signs of manipulation can be more open to interpretation, so they don’t currently lend themselves to automated usage by people who aren’t trained analysts,” Connor told me.

The Izitru iPhone app.

Competitive area

Connor acknowledged that the world of photo apps and upload sites is very competitive. People will need to first know Izitru exists, and then feel inclined to use it in the moment when they’re snapping that important or newsworthy image.

That’s why his team also built an Izitru API to enable other applications to connect to the service and take advantage of its analysis capabilities.

“With [the API], sites that are already getting volumes of images uploaded for sharing could integrate our tests and badge the most trustworthy images as they come in,” he said.

Since the product has only just launched, there yet aren’t any API integrations to share.

He did however say that “a stealth citizen journalism startup” has expressed interest in an integration.

It will be interesting to watch whether they can forge partnerships that begin to spread their trust rating, or if partners don’t see this as enough of a value add. Social networks and apps, for example, prefer to verify users rather than play any part in rating or verifying content.

Those aren’t the only possible partners, of course — but they are where images are shared and engaged with on a huge scale. Will any of them see an advantage in building in an additional trust layer? Read more

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Times public editor Margaret Sullivan says journalists need to be like sharks

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan says journalists today are like sharks. “If you’re not moving forward, it’s over.”

Sullivan gave a keynote address at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, titled, “What I’ve learned at The New York Times — and what that says about journalism.”

In her prepared remarks, she discussed what she sees as the emerging consensus about where journalism is heading, and Sullivan also shared four journalistic values that in her view will never go out of style. She also emphasized the rapidly changing nature of journalism, and why that means journalists, like sharks, always need to keep moving in order to survive.

Her moment of realization of that fact came roughly four years ago after she read Clay Shirky’s post “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”

“I had romantic notions at that time about the sounds of printing presses and the smell of printer’s ink,” she said.

Sullivan was the top editor of The Buffalo News, and she decided to stop “being part of the old guard, holding on tight with my eyes closed as tightly as they would go.”

She joined Twitter and began blogging for the paper. This embrace of social media and the digital world was a factor in her being hired by the Times, she said.

Challenging and stressful

Sullivan has been in the job now for a little more than a year and a half. She called the work “endlessly challenging and often stressful,” and said her sense is the newsroom appreciates the importance and purpose of the public editor position. But there are inevitably times when she writes things that people at the Times disagree with. In fact, disagreement is a constant in the job.

“While in life and especially in journalism it’s very hard to please everyone all the time, as the public editor of the New York Times it is impossible to please anyone, ever,” she said, perhaps only half-joking.

One specific topic she mentioned was the March 2013 decision by the Times to close its Green blog, and the decision in January of that year to redeploy environmental reporters and editors. Sullivan talked about how she followed up on the story in November and reported that the “quantity of climate change coverage decreased,” as had “the amount of deep, enterprising coverage of climate change.”

Sullivan said every news organization needs to invest in climate change coverage, and that the Times has made some hiring moves in that direction.

“I would urge every news organization to have a reporter or a team of reporters covering” climate change,” she said. “I can’t think of too many other subjects that will affect our world more than the environment.”

Sullivan was also asked about the fact that she often hears from readers on Twitter about their concerns, and how that has affected the way she does her job.

“One effect that it’s had on me is I fell like I’m on duty all the time,” she said. “It’s really hard to walk away or be off the grid, and that can be very exhausting. There have definitely been times where I found out from Twitter what I will be writing about the next day.”

However, she cautioned that she sees “a tendency to overreact” on Twitter.

As a general takeaway, Sullivan said she admires the Times and believes that it’s “excellent in so many ways — but being excellent doesn’t translate into being perfect.”

Areas of consensus

Here are the five items Sullivan said have emerged as areas of consensus at this moment in journalism:

  1. “Serious readers, at least sometimes, will pay for serious news.” Sullivan said the Times and the success of its metered paywall is evidence of this.
  2. “Digital news is not just another platform.” She cited Vox, BuzzFeed, Vice, The Verge, PandoDaily and Business Insider as “nimble new ventures” that “are as different from newspaper as streaming ‘House of Cards’ on your iPad” is from traditional ways of consuming TV/films.
  3. “Data driven journalism continues to be a huge trend and continues to embraced, and we’ve not figured out exactly what it’s going to be.” She also cited the importance of single topic news sites, such as Chalkbeat and InsideClimate News.
  4. “We are seeing big money philanthropists investing in news.” Sullivan called it a “Great use of some enormous personal wealth, and wonderful to see it gaining strength.”
  5. “Twitter is so closely interwoven with news that it’s hard to believe it’s only seven or eight years old.” She noted that “every hiring editor is on Twitter,” and wondered whether another platform would emerge to challenge Twitter’s role as the place where we see the first draft of history, in real-time.

Values that remain

Sullivan shared a list of values she says will never go out of style, regardless of how much journalism is changing.

  • Integrity. “Simply put, as a journalist you are not for sale.” She also emphasized the importance of attribution and crediting sources. “Always give credit where it’s due. If you want your name on it, do your work.”
  • Challenging authority. “We’re supposed to be a check on power. Sometimes that means being adversarial.”
  • Accuracy. “Fast is good, but right is better,” she said. “We need the strongest possible commitment to accuracy and its close cousin, fairness.” After news organizations, including the Times, wrongly identified the perpetrator of the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting, Sullivan said a reader wrote her to say “she had always believed that if ‘I read it in The New York Times it’s always true,’ but her belief in that truth had been shaken.”
  • Transparency. “We can say what we know and what we don’t know at a particular time, and we can be quick to admit it when we know something is wrong and when we get something wrong,” she said. Sullivan also said that journalists are eager to shine a light on the actions of public figures and institutions, but we are “not always so eager to shine that light on ourselves.”

Correction: The headline for this piece originally said “Time” instead of “Times.” Read more

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Trust

How ‘communicating imperfection’ can increase readers’ trust in journalists

After studying corrections from three newspapers in different parts of the world, Zohar Kampf and Efrat Daskal concluded that journalists don’t “understand the great ethical potential in corrections.”

That sometimes leads to corrections that are “incomprehensible, ambiguous texts, devoid of any significant content or meaning for the readers,” according to their paper, “Communicating Imperfection: The Ethical Principles of News Corrections,” which was published in the journal Communication Theory. Kampf is a professor and Daskal is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of communication and journalism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In an email exchange, they identified the main barrier to effective correction for journalists and news organizations: a culture of shame around errors.

Newspapers shouldn’t be ashamed of errors or fear them, they said. “They are inevitable part of any human conduct, especially one that is restricted with deadlines. If editors and journalist will internalize this idea we will have a better profession, one that confronts criticism with respect.”

I like to say that a correction is an act of promotion that builds trust. The public does not expect us to be perfect. They are in fact suspicious of a news organization that never admits an error.

As the title of Kampf and Daskal’s paper suggests, we need to become more comfortable with — and better at — “communicating imperfection.”

Kampf and Daskal set out criteria for an ideal correction:

An ideal corrective text should overtly accept responsibility by using a performative marker, such as an apology, which points to the ethical positioning of a transgressor vis-à-vis the offence and the offended party and may also serve as a compensational gesture toward the offended; it should acknowledge and describe the offense, including the flawed procedure leading to its occurrence and its consequences; and it should identify the offender and the offended parties as such.

The above captures how much a correction is supposed to do in a small amount of space. A correction is often one sentence, tucked away. And yet we expect so much: It must repair damage; it must demonstrate a commitment to accountability; it must be clear about the error and the correct material.

It seems unfair to expect so much from something that is given such little prominence. And yet this is an argument for how fundamentally powerful the correction can and should be, if only we were willing to invest more effort.

That’s why Kampf and Daskal call upon news organizations to include more information in corrections.

“We think that our most bald suggestion is to disclose more information on the journalistic practices that have lead to errors,” they told me. “Such exposure of backstage information (with needed limitations, of course) may be of value to readers who will know more about journalists’ methods and routines and, as a result, will better understand the complexities and difficulties involved in serious journalistic work.”

Corrections study

For their study, they analyzed print corrections from three newspapers: Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth, USA Today, and the U.K.’s Daily Express. The sample of close to 1,500 corrections was drawn from an initial data set of thousands of corrections from between 1968 and 2008 for Yedioth Ahronoth, and from 1998 to 2008 for the other two publications.

Kampf and Daskal write that they selected these outlets because they fall into the category of the “‘Serious-Popular Press,’ lying at the center of the continuum between the serious press and tabloid newspapers.”

They examined the corrections to see whether they contained the four elements of what they called the “textual model of accountability”: (1) the corrective marker (2) the offender (3) the offense, and (4) the offended party.

A corrective marker is any “form of symbolic responsibility and/or any compensatory marker.” For example, the phrase “we regret the error” would qualify as a corrective marker.

The main example of a corrective marker in the collected corrections was a headline such as “Corrections.” While it may be a proper label, Kampf and Daskal view the lack of a marker within the correction text itself as a failure of accountability.

“The preference to include a corrective marker in the headline which does not count as an explicit admission of responsibility, and to avoid responsibility markers in the body of the correction, seems to indicate the tendency to create the appearance of an ethical response while blurring actual responsibility for the error,” they write.

Kampf and Daskal found that overall the papers were good at indicating when the original error had appeared, and that the print corrections tend to appear within one week of the original error. In terms of location, USA Today and the Daily Express both have a set location in print for corrections. Yedioth Ahronoth, however, places corrections in different parts of the paper.

“In most cases (82%) the error and the correction appear in the same section of the newspaper, but within these cases, the correction more often appears on a later page than does the erroneous publication,” they write.

When it came to specifying the party guilty of making the error, the researchers found the vast majority of corrections do not name a specific person or role. In my experience, most organizations take the approach that every error is a collective mistake and therefore don’t specify a guilty party. The New York Times stands out for specifically stating whether a mistake was due to an editing error. (Or a source error.)

Kampf and Daskal also found that corrections rarely state the cause of an error. Certainly, part of this is the space constraints of a printed correction. But even online, with unlimited space, you don’t see a reason given for a mistake.

The authors see this as a major missed opportunity for news organizations to provide readers with a better “understanding of the complexities of journalistic work.”

Overall, the data showed that most corrections —the lowest percentage was 79 percent at USA Today — make it reasonably clear what the original mistake was, and what the correct information is. However, they also found that between six and 21 percent of the corrections studied made “no sense.”

Thick corrections

Kampf and Daskal advocate news organizations offer what they call “thick corrections.”

Thick corrections provide a more complete picture of the offense and the organization’s sense of accountability for it. They have a greater potential to actually repair damage and forge a stronger connection with the audience, according to Kampf and Daskal. In contrast, “thin corrections” are when the minimum possible information is offered, sometimes resulting in confusion or frustration for the reader and any offended party.

“Thick corrections should contain information about the nature of offence, the processes leading to the error within the news organization and identify the offended party as such,” they told me. A good correction “should be contextualized in a way that allows readers to fully reconstruct the inaccurate initial publication. It is quite rare to find a correction that includes all four textual elements that corresponds with the all journalistic and accountability values.”

They also suggest that social media and other digital channels are ideal “for communicating imperfection.” These mediums offer “a constant and enduring arena for engaging the public in open discussion with journalists about press practices and performances, and, at the interpersonal level, it may serve as a means of symbolically compensating specific victims.”

In this respect, a correction becomes a piece of content that journalists can enhance and personalize in ways that add value to it, while bringing additional attention. This act helps add heft to a correction, but it also helps it meets its goals more than ever before.

But, first, more journalists need to embrace the fact that every correction, no matter how much it hurts your pride, is a chance to demonstrate your values and build rapport.

A correction is an opportunity. Read more

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An NPR story ended up on the wrong end of cows and their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions:

An earlier version of this story said that the methane emissions associated with livestock come from their farts. In fact, most of those methane emissions come from belches.

Hat tip to Jonathan Eisen

NPR

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John Hamer (John Hamer photo)

Last press council in U.S. will close next month

“It’s a fragile existence,” John Hamer, the executive director and chair of the Washington News Council, told me the last time we spoke.

It was August of 2012, and the WNC had just received its final grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hamer needed to find new funders.

Funding proved challenging to secure, and the WNC’s board also recently concluded that the organization’s role itself needed to be completely reimagined.

Those factors led to a decision, announced yesterday,  to close the WNC on May 31.

“We had a great 15-year run, and we helped a lot of people who were damaged by media malpractice,” said Hamer, in the announcement. “But the news media have changed tectonically since we began. The eruption of online digital news and information made our mission of promoting high standards in journalism much more difficult, if not impossible. How can anyone oversee a cyber-tsunami?” Read more

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Publications aim to make debunking as popular as fake images

Adrienne LaFrance and Matt Novak live in different cities and write for different sites in the Gawker Media network. LaFrance is a freelancer who contributes to several other publications. Novak works full-time on his blog, Paleofuture, which is part of Gizmodo.

She often writes about tech and media. He writes about past visions of the future.

Despite the differences, LaFrance and Novak recently converged on the same idea: debunking hoaxes and misinformation as a regular feature.

LaFrance writes the Antiviral column for Gawker, which carries the headline “Here’s What’s Bullshit on the Internet This Week.” She identifies trending misinformation and new hoaxes and digs into them to reveal what’s fake.

Novak’s debunking effort, which appears roughly monthly, focuses on calling out fake images. He particularly likes debunking images from the many historical pictures accounts that sprouted up on Twitter, unleashing a stream of fake, Photoshopped and unattributed images claiming to be from the past.

Both efforts began at the end of last year, just before Charlie Warzel of BuzzFeed declared that 2014 would be the “Year Of The Viral Debunk.” Soon after that post appeared published, Paulo Ordoveza, who I previously profiled, decided to set up his @PicPedant account. It calls out fake and unattributed images on Twitter.

Aside from the two Gawker Media features and the Twitter image debunkers, The Washington Post now has its own “What was fake on the Internet this week” feature by writer Caitlin Dewey, which appears on the Post culture blog. It launched in March.

As of now, Warzel’s prediction looks prophetic in that we’ve seen the emergence of consistent debunking efforts that are picking up steam in 2014. These new debunkers also speak to how debunking can be integrated to a wide range of efforts, from highly specialized blogs and Twitter accounts to large traditional new organizations and edgier digital efforts.

Making it consistently viral, however, will take more work…

Debunking as a reporting lens

LaFrance pitched the Antiviral column to John Cook, then Gawker’s editor, because she saw it in part as an opportunity to tell stories that others miss. Novak debunks because it helps expose the tendency for people to glorify or condemn the past at the expense of truth.

Both apply a level of reporting and research to their work. After all, nobody wants an unreliable debunker.

“My goal is always to have reporting behind it because it’s very easy to Google the hoax and aggregate what people have already done,” LaFrance said. “I’d much rather go deeper. One reason so much gets shared is people not taking time to put out a call or do the emailing back and forth with PR people  — and we need to do that.”

LaFrance and Novak are using debunking as a lens to discover the true story behind a fake thing. That’s one of the promises of adopting the debunker’s lens — you reveal the things other people missed.

“Just saying something is fake isn’t as interesting as saying where it came from,” LaFrance said.

For Novak, debunking is also way to pursue a defining narrative of his blog.

“I decided to do the first post because my specialty is past visions of the future,” he said. “I tend to look at a lot of aspirational images … I think it’s interesting to look at how we can both romanticize the past and also judge it so harshly. I think that both are strains of when you see people passing around things from historical picture accounts on Twitter. It’s often, ‘Oh look at how awful things were’ or about how much better were.”

I asked him what the viral, fake image of Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose in deep water represented for people.

“I think that speaks to the great man myth of history we want so desperately to believe,” he said. “It’s about, ‘Look at how much more badass masculine our leaders used to be.’ ”

This is one thing to recognize about manufactured fakes and hoaxes: they often, though not always, are an attempt to expose something about society, to express a point of view or emotion, to get a reaction.

Real-time debunking

During breaking news situations and disasters, however, rumors and misinformation spread in part because of the tremendous uncertainly and sense of danger. People pass things along because the information seems urgent and important.

In that moment, all of us have an innate desire to share what we are seeing as a way to make sense of what’s happening. That gives rise to another type of debunking, where speed is needed to match the flow of false information.

Hurricane Sandy was an important moment for real-time debunking. Efforts at BuzzFeed, The Atlantic and the “Is Twitter Wrong?” Tumblr from U.K. journalist Tom Phillips came to the forefront.

A debunked image, from The Atlantic.

When Sandy hit, Phillips was working as international editor for MSN U.K. (He now works for BuzzFeed U.K.) He decided to test whether it would be possible to deliver real-time debunking, using a Tumblr and Twitter account.

“Part of the reason I did it in the first place was as an experiment to see if it was possible,” Phillips told me when we spoke by phone last year. “You know, would that fit into sort of a daily workflow in a newsroom, in that kind of context, or would it just become a massive, massive time suck? And the answer from that was basically yeah, you can do it. You can do an awful lot of it in a way that actually fits in with a daily workflow pretty well.”

Phillips said he’s seen debunking become more a part of breaking news coverage. By the time of the Boston bombings and Sandy Hook shootings, he said, “I saw an awful lot of journalists were actively going out doing debunking. Debunking is now part of reporting, basically.”

It’s become a regular part of his work, too. Earlier this year he produced a very BuzzFeed post, “14 Incredible But Fake Viral Images — And The Twitter Account Debunking The Picspammers.”

In a bit of debunking inception, the story called out fake images as a way to introduce people to @PicPedant.

But is it viral?

Nick Denton, the head of Gawker Media wrote in a memo to staff last year that, “the crowd will eventually choose the juicy truth over a heartwarming hoax.”

It was something of an endorsement of debunking. But he’s also expressed skepticism about the virality of debunking:

 

There can be home runs from debunking. Deadspin’s Manti Te’o story, published more than a year ago, is approaching 4.5 million views. Novak said his photo debunkings have done major traffic for Gizmodo, with one post garnering more than 700,000 views. LaFrance’s Antiviral column broke 100,00 views on the first attempt, but hasn’t done that again since.

Phillips told me that, “I think you’ll find that [debunking] can be, you know, it can actually be as popular and as viral as the untrue stuff.”

To truly get there, we’ll need to more journalists and others bringing different perspectives and applying different approaches to debunking. Tint the debunking lens in new ways. We’ll need to take lessons from the creators of viral fakes and from viral wizards like Upworthy, and to think about ways to get people to accept the truth rather than the lie.

For now, to get better debunking, we need more debunking. Read more

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This correction from the U.K.’s Ayrshire Post was probably long awaited by one Mr. William Scott:

 

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Slate offers up a classic misquote correction:

This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.

Hat tip to Matt Novak.

Slate

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Rejoice! Gawker’s King Max rejects the strikethrough correction with good reason

Max Read recently took over as the editor of Gawker and — drunk with power — he laid down the law regarding corrections.

In a memo blogged by Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon, Read’s new policy is notable for what it tells writers not to do:

For corrections, rather than strikethrough, change the wording and link from there to a comment noting the corrected text, as Tom does here: http://gawker.com/thanks-ill-correct-it-and-link-down-to-this-correctio-1554296985.

Ah, the strikethrough. As something of an old fogie blogger (since 2003 y’all!) I have an affinity for using strikethrough as a way to offer a quick correction.

The strikethrough is great because it’s an efficient and contextual way to show readers you messed something up, to be clear about what it was, and to also show where it happened.

The strikethrough correction is a speedy form of transparency. It’s so bloggy.

Even the Washington Post’s online corrections policy says it’s okay for Post blogs to use the strikethrough:

Minor mistakes may be corrected and acknowledged within the blog post, using either strike-through text or parentheses.

But I humbly bow before Gawker Corrections King Max Read. He has ascended a very bloggy throne — and made a bold and correct call to banish the strikethrough correction from the realm.

Reasons for striking the strikethrough

First, he notes that the strikethrough does not always show up for readers, which is an undoubtedly important point:

It’s HTML styling, and it gets stripped in Google searches, RSS, tweets, through copy-pastes, etc., completely fucking up our meaning, especially in headlines

“We should strive to make our writing clear and precise even absent any text formatting,” Kaiser Read wrote.

If you use strikethrough to make a correction and it doesn’t show up across all platforms, then it’s no good. The act of correction has been defeated.

Another concern with strikethrough corrections is that this push-button fix actually introduces an element of complexity. The Post’s corrections policy distinguishes between “major errors” and “minor errors,” and says the strikethrough is good for the latter.

Who gets to decide when something is major or minor? The journalist who made the mistake? Uh-oh.

Sure, most people may agree that a typo that doesn’t introduce a factual error or alternate meaning is a minor error. But other calls are not so clear.

By creating two classes of error, you’re adding another layer of decision making to the correction process. Is this a strikethrough correction or an add-it-at-the-bottom-of-the-post correction?

This opens to door to delays and new problems.

Keep it simple and people will offer corrections more frequently. One style, for all errors.

Huzzah!

I’m also falling out of love with the strikethrough correction because, as the Caliph of Corrections notes in his memo, the strikethrough is also used as a way to make a joke. He is also correct that “Jokes made using strikethrough are generally not worth saving.”

Unfortunately, these jokes are made often enough to muddy the water for a strikethrough correction. Why take the chance that people think you’re doing a funny-ha-ha strikethrough and not a dead serious correction?

One last argument against strikethrough corrections: they can ruin the flow for a reader, and get in the way of a more complete correction.

As a corrections nerd, I love that a strikethrough correction shows up exactly where the error occurred. But as a reader, it can be something of a speed bump.

There’s a better way to provide the context of an error and to offer a correction that gives more to the reader.

In the decree, His Majesty Max pointed to an example of the kind of correction he wants to see at Gawker:

* Correction: This item initially misidentified Wieseltier as a congregant at Adas Israel, the Conservative synagogue to which Brooks belongs. In fact, Wieseltier belongs to Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox one located in Georgetown. Writes Wieseltier: “This is not just a journalistic delinquency. It is also a metaphysical one.” Gawker regrets the error.

See the asterisk at the beginning of the correction? I call that the Slate asterisk because they have been using it for many years in corrections.

As shown by Slate and now Gawker, a great way to do an online correction is to add an asterisk at the end of the sentence where the error occurred, and then to put the correction at the bottom of the text, with another asterisk.

This means you’ve connected the context and correction for the reader — and you have more space to offer as much information in the correction as is needed.

Or even a funny quote, as in the above!

Well, at the behest of the Emperor of Elizabeth Street, I’ve given my old friend the strikethrough correction a thorough flogging.

But allow me a few words in favor of the strikethrough as a harbinger of transparency.

Strikethrough as Track Changes

The strikethrough is an old and venerable device, and it has gone through many incarnations.

Centuries ago, a red line through text was in fact used to call out a particular passage, rather than eliminate it. Here’s an example from the Domesday Book, which was completed in 1086:

But over time it evolved to signal something an editor or proofreader wanted removed. Microsoft Word probably did more to popularize the strikethrough than anything else, thanks to its Track Changes feature.

Suddenly, anyone could mark up a document like an editor or proofreader.

“Tracking changes is often a good way to communicate,” wrote Ruth Walker in The Christian Science Monitor. “But if the editorial process is emotionally fraught, or involves people who are not fully at home on the computer, or both, track-changes can send editors round the bend.”

Yes, the strikethrough has its place. It shouldn’t be something that gets in the way of reading, understanding, or a healthy professional relationship.

I’m in favor of the strikethrough as a way of showing the changes and evolution of an online story or piece of text.

If, as they say, news today is a process, then readers should be able to see the changes being made over time. This argument was made eloquently by Scott Rosenberg, and he also helped get a related WordPress plug-in created.

NewsDiffs is also an attempt to show people the changes being made to stories by media outlets, even if the publications themselves don’t do it.

As noted in a New York Times article from 2007, the strikethrough-as-transparency also has a place in other kinds of documents:

If bills were created under a system where strike-throughs and additions were carefully tracked, the public would know which legislator made which change to a proposed piece of legislation as it made its way through the Capitol.

Ancient bloggers like me may initially beat our chests about the Shah of Snark’s stake to the heart of the strikethrough correction.

But its death can be a clarion call to throw open the gates and find new ways to let the people see what’s really going on inside the kingdom.

Long live King Max! Read more

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Indian paper the latest to offer a cutting pseudo-correction

Journalist Aakar Patel has made a habit of needling Indian politician Shri Narendra Modi.

Just yesterday, Patel’s column in the Mumbai Mirror about the Indian elections included a satirical letter of apology credited to Modi.

Then today Patel offered up his own pseudo-apology to Modi in the form of a satirical “clarification.” It was spotted and tweeted by Ashish Shakya, a comedian and humor columnist for the Hindustan Times:


The text reads:

A Clarification

For the last 12 years we have been writing about the chief minister of Gujarat as being responsible for the happenings in his state.

We called him a communalist with no grip on his administration. A man unable to curb violence against thousands of citizens, and who showed laxity in prosecuting its perpetrators.

Now that he is clearly ahead in the polls we realise that we have been utterly mistaken.

He is in fact a visionary with total grip on his administration. His revolutionary view on development has made life better for thousands of citizens.

We are shocked by our misidentification and we offer Mr Modi our most sincere and unconditional hypocrisy.

Signed

All journalists and anchors

The pseudo apology is a common enough device. It’s often used to acknowledge that an aggrieved party has done something good/correct, in spite of himself. For example, during the 2006 World Cup, U.K. tabloid The Sun offered this pseudo apology to a player on England’s team:

SUNSPORT would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt SORRY to Owen Hargreaves.

Over recent weeks we might have given the impression we thought he was, well, rubbish.

But Owen proved against Portugal, with his all-action performance, that he was well worth his place.

Unlike soppy Sven [Goran Eriksson], we’re big enough to admit we got it wrong.

Speaking of Eriksson, he too received a pseudo apology from a columnist at same paper:

RECENT articles in this column may have given the impression that Mr Sven Goran Eriksson was a greedy, useless, incompetent fool. This was a misunderstanding. Mr Eriksson is in fact a footballing genius. We are happy to make this clear.

Along with U.K. tabloids, The Stranger in Seattle is a frequent practitioner of the art. It typically includes a raft of pseudo-corrections/apologies in its annual We Regret These Errors feature. A sample from the most recent edition:

Rob McKenna, the failed Republican candidate for governor, regrets that $80,000 of print ads in the Seattle Times couldn’t buy him the governor’s mansion.

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, on a related note, regrets this, too.

I’m also fond of this classic 2004 pseudo correction from a columnist with the Lewiston Morning Tribune:

An Oct. 1 editorial referred to Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville as a “classy candidate.” This page regrets the error. — P.M.

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