This morning the Guardian published an op-ed I wrote following up on my post a while back, “There is no “first blogger.’ “ Its slightly verbose title is The blog haters have barely any idea what they are raging against. It was fun to expand on the argument and offer my own case for the long-term significance of blogging after a decade (or so).
It was also interesting to reread the piece (which I wrote a couple of weeks ago) after my post last night about corrections in the Times archive:
This confrontation between newspaper and blogosphere could easily leave you exasperated at both the Wall Street Journal’s sloppiness and the bloggers’ occasional self-righteousness. But as you rolled your eyes, you might miss the dust-up’s most interesting angle: the flurry of blogged retorts to the paper produced an accurate record of the facts around blogging’s rise. Bloggers aren’t any better than Johnny Deadline at getting facts right the first time around, but they’re a lot more efficient at correcting their own, and everyone else’s, goofs.
Meanwhile, Slate’s Jack Shafer pooh-poohs the Clark Hoyt public editor column about fixing the Times archives. Shafer thinks Hoyt’s specific examples are weak and that people who are aggrieved over errors in old Times stories should just combat the bad information by building their own Web sites.
I think this dismissal reflects head-in-the-sand thinking on Shafer’s part. It’s great that the Web lets people go out and publish their own retorts, but that doesn’t let newspapers off the hook. Professional journalists have no idea how frustrating and infuriating it can be to try to get a newspaper to fix a mistake. Even today, typically, the response from most newsrooms is defensive and the likelihood of obtaining satisfaction much smaller than it should be. As journalists, ourselves, when we face such problems we know how to pull the levers and we often get special, collegial treatment.
If the Times is capitalizing on its archives, it ought to take more responsibility for the new currency it has granted to old stories (and their errors). Shafer’s attitude is that people who are hurt by these old stories should go out and fix the problem themselves. I’d do that, if I were in their shoes, but I’ve been a journalist all my life. I don’t think the Times can take such a cavalier stance. Because in the end, if the paper tells its subjects that it’s their responsibility to establish an accurate public record, people will start wondering why they need the paper’s version of the record at all.
LATE UPDATE: JD Lasica’s post reminds me of the piece he did for my Salon Technology section back in 1998 titled The Net Never Forgets. These aren’t new problems; they’re just new for the Times — and it has, well, a longer tail of old issues to resolve.
[tags]guardian, blog history, jack shafer, new york times, corrections, errors, journalism[/tags]