(I wound up expanding on this idea in an op-ed for the L.A. Times, which you can read here)
There’s two schools of thought when it comes to publishing news.
There’s the traditional approach, where you take your time and make sure you have multiple named sources you’re personally and directly in contact with. That is, in my mind, the best possible way to ensure you’re getting your facts straight.
The second school relies on several factors:
- Direct single sourcing (named official at Dept of Defense told me)
- Reliance on third party sources (New York Times reported through (named source)
- Reliance on third party unnamed source (New York Times reported through senior government official.
We see a lot more of the second school these days than the personally acquired source and that leads to less reliable reporting. Worse yet, there’s often no accountability or a documentation how the story evolved over time as better sources emerged.
The traditional method of reporting has become less common as new media outlets rely on aggregation of sources. Even traditional reporting relies on a combination of both personally acquired sources and a mix of aggregated reports.
What’s usually lacking from either of these methods is a way for the reporter to provide to the reader the ability to understand how the story evolved. An “Editor’s Note” that appears at the top or bottom of the post seems insufficient. Something like NewsDiffs can be useful but doesn’t plug directly into the existing website (if it could, that might be a good solution.)
What would be ideal is a way for the reader to turn on the corrections/changes made by clicking a link at the top of the post that turns the post into a “track changes” mode, which shows the updates made over time. You might even allow the reader to see what the story looked like on a particular day. In addition, it would be useful to simply give the reader the ability to follow the story and be alerted each time it gets changed or corrected. We did exactly that with Circa, but it would be even better to see it built into existing media properties.
This transparency builds greater trust between the reader and the publisher. It also reclaims something that is becoming lost when readers are led to many places through social media rather than relying on a single publication: loyalty. If I am given the ability to track a story over time and understand I’ll be told if something changes or is corrected, I’m more likely to go back to that same source which I’ve subscribed to.
It’s no longer sufficient to think you can change a story and think nobody will notice, you might as well be upfront with readers as the story evolves and allow them to stay connected to those changes as they happen. The alternative is hope nobody will notice only to have others explain how you’ve made those changes and tried to act like nothing happened, which serves to do nothing but erode credibility and trust in the publication.