The odd tale of a story about women who corresponded with former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner that the New York Times published, then deleted earlier this month got odder Monday: BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski pieced a version of it together from Google searches. That same day, the Times published the missing piece.
“By looking at search result listings in a series of more than a hundred searches in Google News, it was possible to reconstruct what appears to be the bulk of the article — 1,342 words,” Kaczynski writes.
“From what I’ve been able to piece together, there was a miscommunication among Times editors,” Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote a few days after the story disappeared, replaced by a note saying it had been published inadvertently.
The story’s author, Michael Barbaro, introduced the story on Twitter:
Inadvertent no more: my just-published story on the lasting impact of the Weiner scandal on the women involved: http://t.co/cHQrDbi4D0
— Michael Barbaro (@mikiebarb) June 24, 2013
“Our editors decide when a story is ready for publication,” Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha told Poynter in an email. “Outside coverage does not play a role in that decision.”
Kaczynski’s piece is the third time in recent weeks a reporter has reconstructed changes to a Times story using online tools — Huffington Post reporter Michael Calderone used the site NewsDiffs on June 7 to show how the Times softened language in an editorial savaging the Obama administration and again on June 14 to show the paper had removed a line from a story from Iran that quoted someone as saying “I hope The New York Times building burns down.”
In 2011, former Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane asked Executive Editor Jill Abramson whether the Times would track its own changes:
Right now, tracking changes is not a priority at The Times. As Ms. Abramson told me, it’s unrealistic to preserve an “immutable, permanent record of everything we have done.”
When NewsDiffs launched last year, co-creator Eric Price told Craig Silverman, “I think historians of journalism would like to be able to access the versions of articles that many people see, not just the later version with more full information.”
Sullivan has been keeping a similar beat, saying the change to the Obama editorial “should have carried a tag that said ‘Updated,’ as many online articles do.” And she checked News Diffs to no avail when reporting on the disappeared Weiner article.
“Such are the hazards of digital misdirection, as Mr. Weiner found out,” Sullivan wrote.
“We are not considering adding a note to readers whenever we update a web story,” Rhoades Ha told me in another email. She continued:
We regularly update web stories — especially breaking news stories — to refine the story, add new information and context with the goal of improving the story. Making note of every change is unrealistic, but more importantly, it would not serve the reader.
Corrections are a different matter. We have a very strict policy on corrections, both online and in print. When we make a mistake, we correct and make note of the error.