MediaBugs Helps Correct Errors Ignored in Comments

    by Scott Rosenberg
    May 13, 2010

    Our public beta of MediaBugs.org has been open for about three weeks now. We’re still tinkering with our interface, coping with problems at our Internet service provider, and working on plans to increase participation. But we’ve already got some fascinating results from our experiment.

    Here’s what I think is the most interesting one so far: The first two errors that we helped get corrected were (1) a listing in the East Bay Express that provided the wrong location for a theater event; and (2) a reference in a TechCrunch story to the wrong police department. In both of these cases, the problem had already been reported to the media outlets in question — in their own comments.

    Neither error was earth-shattering, but neither was as trivial as, say, a simple typographical error. Yet the comments reporting the mistakes had sat on these websites for days (in one of the cases, over a week) without either a response or a correction. In each case, it took additional steps to get the newsroom to put fixing the error at the front of its to-do list: First, someone had to file an error report with MedisBugs (OK, in one case it was me!); then, we contacted the news outlet directly and asked for a response.


    Lack of Response

    I bring these particulars up not to shame the news organizations involved, each of which handled itself professionally and responsively, but rather to underscore a point that many of us still don’t realize: Even though most journalists aim to get facts right and to fix things when they don’t, actually getting a news organization to respond and make a correction often takes a lot more effort than it should.

    There’s bureaucratic inertia to be overcome. There’s every newsroom’s tendency to focus on tomorrow’s story and not devote a lot of time and thought to yesterday’s. There’s the simple fact that most newsrooms today have fewer and fewer employees. And there’s also, occasionally, the journalist’s hope that if he ignores a complaint long enough, it might just go away.

    Now, two error reports is hardly a good sample size, and we’ll need more data before trying to draw any definitive conclusions. For now, what we have is some anecdotal support for what was one of the assumptions behind MediaBugs from the beginning: That the feedback loop between news producers and the public need to be made much more efficient.


    Media outlets have opened the door to comments on their websites, but these discussion threads turn out not to be a very good channel for getting the outlet’s attention and motivate it to fix a mistake. If, as we believe, fixing mistakes promptly and prominently is one of the keys to restoring public trust in news media, then MediaBugs can play a useful role by tightening up those feedback loops.

    Tagged: accuracy comments corrections east bay express errors media accuracy mediabugs techcrunch
    • Scott, this parallels the “public = online” campaign, where activists are pushing municipalities and government representatives to post documents online rather than make available a single hard-copy in a dank courthouse basement.

      So in the same way public now equals online, correctable now equals findable and verifiably fixed. And, later, in the same way that public will also soon mean searchable, XML-parsable, etc., correctable will also soon mean people can track mistakes across publications, back to original sources who repeatedly make mistakes, and do so, indeed, publicly.

      In other words, with a tool like MediaBugs, the definition of a correction will necessarily change. It doesn’t just mean a publication’s acknowledging an error and moving on; it means (because it’s now possible to) that they then have an ethical responsibility to correct all the errors that rippled from the original.

    • Kathleen Wentz, East Bay Express managing editor

      Actually we didn’t “ignore” it, we forgot about it. Luckily Scott reminded us. Thanks Scott!

    • Readers point out errors from the ESPN.com comments all the time. Because of the volume, we see some and miss others.

      Readers also point out what they think are errors, but are not, or offer factually incorrect info.

      There are definitely opportunities for both sides here.

    • LL

      Shouldn’t it be “MediaBugs” not “MedisBugs” in the third paragraph? Lol.

    • Jay

      Nothing drives me crazy like grammatical errors. Apparently it’s now positively fashionable to confuse its and it’s, they’re/their/there, you’re/your, etc. I WON’T HAVE IT! Media, get your act together. There’s not much we can do about illiterates posting comments, but the actual paid writers can start by getting their grammer right.

    • Tricia

      Being an old lady, I can remember when publications did not need software to avoid typos and incorrect information, and when a typo or incorrect information was a rarity to be remarked upon by one and all. I can also remember when a correction would promptly be printed in the next issue whenever the publication discovered it or it was brought to its attention.

      This was back when spelling and grammar and objective, accurate reporting were valued. (Where is Uncle Walter when we need him?) I’m glad to see that someone, at least, is making this a priority (well, the spelling and accuracy part – I doubt we’ll ever get back to the place where editorial and factual reporting were very carefully kept separate, the former clearly marked at all times on its own page and the latter filling most of the paper).

    • And for audio/video, mispronunciations.
      Could somebody tell Jeremy Hubbard of ABC that “Iran” has a long ‘a’ and “Cannes” has a short ‘a’? He’s got ’em backwards. :)
      Jim Lehrer needs to learn how to pronounce “Iran” as well. Sigh.

    • Hesch

      I have a suggestion related to making the most of the volunteer contributor ‘cloud’.

      (A) I am an in courage a bull pruf reedr.
      (2) I started working with computers in 1967.
      (III) I have aspired to the title J.O.A.T. for nearly 5 decades.

      Like many others, I have my areas of expertise.
      Unfortunately, my experience, and therefore my usefulness, is *very* seldom recognized.
      I have a handful (literally 5 or fewer) people at some websites / companies who I can contact directly,
      and from whom I can expect a response that acknowledges my report and my history as a competent reporter.
      One of my newest areas of expertise is getting heard a first time.
      On the other hand, I have adopted a baseball-like rule; three strikes, and they are out.
      I am a limited resource.

      So — my suggestion:
      If an organization is serious about using the comments they get, I believe they would do well to have some way of identifying contributors who have a history of being competent. In whatever time cycle they review input to their comment stream, they should have some way of recognizing comments from their competent reporters, and moving those comments to the head of the line.
      For further benefit, there can also be a list of ‘DNR’ contributors [Do Not Respond] because they have proven themselves incompetent in the past.

      (Δ) I am verbose.

      Peace – Hesch

    • Iris M.Gross

      @Jay – it’s “grammar”, not “grammer”! Since we’ve all become grammar police…

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