4/25/2005

Self-Correcting Media?

Over the weekend I corrected an earlier post that had confused two people with the same name. A good corrections policy helps small publishers by giving them some protection against lawsuits while bolstering their credibility. We can handle our own sites easily enough. But is there a technical way to notify readers and thereby actively correct errors propagated by our work?

My mistake involved a posting on emerging audio networks, specifically a reference to a non-profit group called the Real Public Radio Network formed by Scott Converse. I confused that person with an information technology professor of the same name. An anonymous comment alerted me to the error about a week ago but I only slowed down to correct the entry on Sunday.

Before doing so, I happened to read a posting by Sam Whitmore that referenced a prior note by Jonathan Dube. He had complimented Business 2.0 for correcting an error in plain sight – striking over the erroneous copy and making the fix visible – rather than rewriting the original post as if the entry had never been wrong.

That seems like a good idea. It allows readers to know the magnitude of the error as well as the correct information. I adopted the same approach though in a less elegant fashion (I didn’t know how to overstrike the text). In the future -- though I hope my correction will be few -- I will try this: fix the wrong sentences or paragraphs in the body of the blog and put an asterisk at the end of the line to reference the error, which I will place at the bottom of the posting.

Correcting errors can be a first line of defense against lawsuits. I’m not sure it’s an ironclad remedy, but if you get a valid complaint about libel or invasion of privacy, correcting the offensive material may solve the problem – or at least demonstrate your intent to act reasonably should the aggrieved party file suit. (Note: if you are correcting a false and defamatory statement, amend my suggestion in the previous paragraph and simply strike the wrong material and leave a note at the bottom of the page saying you have removed an error. Add a sincere apology.)

Okay, so we can do online what traditional publishers do in print. But can we do more? Can we track down people who’ve gotten the wrong poop and set the record straight? I may simply be exposing my technical ignorance, but I imagine it could be done like this.

What if interested readers left a marker on a site saying “ping me if you have follow ups on this topic.” A correction would be one form of follow up. So would a subsequent posting on that topic. RSS might be the vehicle to accomplish this. Rather than subscribe to the entire blog, people could limit their interests to themes. I don’t know if this would be practical, as it would require that publishers imprint individual postings with some unique marker. (Confession: my tech knowledge is so weak I still haven’t figured out basic RSS.)

My technical embarrassment aside, if there is a way to send out correction notices to readers, I’d like to know it. And if there isn’t such a utility, it seems worth inventing as a way to improve the credibility of e-publishers. Currently cyberspace has a reputation for unreliability as compared to traditional media. If e-publishers can create systems to actively correct misimpressions or misinformation, they could turn the tables on print or broadcast publishers who would have no comparable way to make their media self-correcting.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media

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