Ok, now that I got your attention with the title, this is about more than Forbes’ Royal Gaffe. But first things first: Forbes mistakenly printed a “story”, (update: original deleted, see saved copy) which isn’t a story but private chat between two AP reporters, and should not have been published at all (hat tip: Mathew Ingram):
Swiss arrest Polanski on US request in sex case
Associated Press, 09.27.09, 10:41 AM EDT
i checked already, and so did zurich. they say the question is irrelevant. he answered me with the quote i used, about we knew when he was coming this time. he’s been here many times in the past, we think.
thx brad. aptn is aware, but unfortunately won’t make it in time, but is hoping to catch tail end.
i’m pushing out another writethru with some more background details before press conference.
no surprise, new york is really hot on this.
they particularly want to know why now. (has he never set foot in switzerland before?) sheila, theorizes that’s because they’re under intense pressure over ubs and want to throw the U.S. a bone, but can yo ucheck with justice department sources there?
is frank around too, or are you alone?
u can tell aptn press conf 1700 (15 gmt) in bern at the parliament
i’ll watch it live on internet
Clearly, somebody at Forbes / AP must be sleeping, since the “article” is still online after a full day – but let’s assume they will wake up and remove it, so I’ve saved it on Zoho Viewer. But let’s use this opportunity to discuss something more important.
Airbrushing Online Articles After the Fact
I borrowed that title from Jeff Nolan who discusses the case of The Washington Post materially changing an article after the fact, without notification:
It’s one thing to correct references or relevant facts but to materially change entire sections of an article is alarming and undermines the central argument that newspapers themselves make about why they are essential systems of record for society.
The record of an event is only changing as the timeline plays out and new facts and arguments emerge, which may serve to invalidate previous reporting and in that case should be noted as new content, not airbrushing of already published content. At the very least a record of corrections should append each online story when necessary rather than flagrant material editing of content done “under the cover of darkness”.
Newspapers must recognize that the public trust they cherish is at risk whenever they rewrite an article that is already published online.
I fully agree with Jeff, in fact, let’s just extend it to any form of online publication, including blogs. For minor changes we can always use there is always good old strikethrough. Of course if you do it a lot your text becomes unreadable, so for more changes, the right approach is to indicate the change and list the previous version of the story.
But wait! We already have the technology to automate this! Wikis are known for full version control and trackability, any Wikipedia reader can follow how much-edited article took shape by clicking on previous releases. The WordPress editor has for a while offered rolling back to previous releases – but that’s just for the blog author.
Here’s a simple proposal:
Make version control available to readers. I don’t mean the tiny edits while you shape up your thoughts. There should be a check-mark for “major edit”, and if you click it, it should cause a “Previous releases of this story” link to appear in a prominent place, at the top or bottom of each article.
This would go a long mile toward improving blogs’ credibility (and yes, newspapers can do it, too). Oh, and just to clarify: I’m discussing content change here. The Forbes story is different, it was a mistake, and I fully agree it should be removed when (if) Forbes / AP wakes up. (Update: they did.)