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The Media

Online News Stories that Change Behind Your Back 309

Posted by Roblimo
from the who-controls-the-present-controls-the-past dept.
Major news Web sites routinely rewrite stories after they are published, sometimes so heavily that they only bear a glancing resemblance to what was posted earlier. This CNN/Money article about the penalty phase of the Microsoft trial is a prime example. What you see at the other end of the link is quite different from the story that first appeared at that URL. Even the headline and byline have changed. But CNN/Money managing editor Allen Wastler says there is nothing wrong with this practice, even though there is no indication on the site that the article was heavily modified after it first appeared.
To see how radically this story was changed after Slashdot linked to it, check this snapshot of the original, provided by Slashdot reader John Harrold.

The second iteration was more favorable -- or at least less unfavorable -- to Microsoft than the original, but Wastler denies any Microsoft involvement in the change. "Advertisers do not interfere with our content," he says, and notes that neither he nor any other CNN/Money editors were contacted by Microsoft about this story. He does say, though, that the later version was "more balanced" than the earlier one.

In my experience, Microsoft PR people are not capable of reacting to anything as quickly as this story changed, so the chance of a conspiracy here is about zero. As for Wastler's "more balanced" comment, that is his judgement, and you are free to agree or disagree with it. (I'm sure some Slashdot readers will say he is correct, and others will say he is not. Editorial decisions never please everyone.)

"Writethroughs" are Routine in Online News

In the news business, stories that change after the originals run are called "writethroughs." This practice originated with wire services like UPI, AP, and Reuters, who might send subscribing editors a story with the headline, "Office building on fire in downtown Cleveland," followed by one or two paragraphs of copy, with progressively longer versions of the same story coming through the wire, hour by hour, as reporters on the scene gather more information.

Wastler says CNN/Money readers look at his site "like a wire service" and expect stories to change over the course of a day. As an example, during our phone conversation he pointed me to a recently posted CNN/Money story with the headline, U.S. productivity soars, and noted that this story might be updated and expanded several times, so that "by the end of the day, it might become a magazine length feature."

Online News Association President Bruce Koon says, via email, "Writethroughs are very common nowadays among news sites, from MSNBC to CBSMarketWatch to CNN. Pretty standard practice nowadays to freshen headlines and leads as new developments occur. Some sites have labels such as 'update' or 'breaking news' but it varies. For top stories, I don't see that kind of labeling." In his day job, Koon is Executive News Editor for Knight Ridder Digital, so he ought to know.

I was not aware that this practice was routine in the online news business until a few days ago. Old-style wire service writethroughs were as specific as a rigorously kept programmer's changelog, right down to paragraph and line number. Maybe I'm naive, but if I am going to trust a news source, I expect that same level of care in story updates, or at least something like News.com's corrections page, which lets readers know what changes, if any, have been made to published stories before they are archived.

What's the Difference Between an Update and a Correction?

I doubt that most news site readers know the story they are seeing at the moment they read it is not necessarily the same as the story that was published earlier at the same URL -- unless we tell them. We run the risk of getting into the habit of "getting it first" at the expense of "getting it right" if we start thinking, "Well, we can fix it later, so let's go with what we have now even if it's not confirmed as carefully as we'd really like."

This is not the same as running a story that begins by saying something like, "An unconfirmed statement by...," followed by a later story that either confirms or denies the original statement, and it is not the same as an Update notice added to the original story when it is expanded or corrected. At CNN/Money, when a story is updated it gets a fresh time/date stamp, and Wastler says that's plenty. The problem with this is that someone reading the latest version who didn't see the previous one has no way to know that an earlier -- possibly incorrect -- version ever existed.

Columbia University journalism professor Sreenath Sreenivasan (AKA Sree) says, "You really need to make it clear to your readers if your stories have been changed or updated." He makes his students do that on Columbia's Web sites, even though some of them complain that commercial news sites, where many of them hope to work after graduation, wouldn't necessarily make them take this extra step.

Sree feels strongly that if a Web site changes a news story, for whatever reason, it should put, "'last updated at' or something like that" along with the original publication time and date.

More Analysis of the CNN/Money Story Example

Andrew Nachison, of the American Press Institute's Media Center, took a close look at our original CNN/Money example and gave us this analysis:

The Microsoft trial story on CNN looks like a typical write-thru of an earlier story, with new information from afternoon events. The morning's top news, that a Microsoft witness had trouble answering some questions, got bumped lower in the story as other witnesses testified later in the day. On its face, no big deal.

However, CNN did a disservice to its audience - especially the audience paying close attention to that particular story - by failing to explain the changes. A brief note would have helped, or a link to a journal of update notes for the story, so users - like newspaper wire editors - could, in a glance, understand how the story had changed from previous versions.

Something else would have helped CNN's audience: if CNN had an obvious, standard policy for publishing update notes that the audience expected and was used to.

What's most remarkable to me is that we're well into the digital publishing era but most digital news providers have yet to develop clear standards for how to handle updates and notes about updates so users are better informed. Publishers need to do this for two reasons: first, to better serve their audiences (which should translate into credibility with the audience) and second, to promote expectations and standards that audiences can come to expect of all credible news providers.

Errors that require corrections add a whole different level of challenge to digital publishing. Today it's virtually impossible to erase a mistake once it's published online. Web browsers call up cached versions stored on hard drives, some sites intentionally archive Web sites for historical research, and Internet service providers like AOL cache popular pages to speed service to customers. So AOL customers may hit a cached version of a story that contains errors corrected in a subsequent version that has yet to be cached by the AOL servers.

If online news publishers truly have their audience's best interests in mind then they should go out of their way to alert the audience to corrections and to make it clear when an update corrects previously published errors. They need to set the record straight.

University of Florida journalism professor Mindy McAdams has also looked at our example story. She says:

Updating the story in real time without noting that it has been changed: That's okay by me, in principle. But in this case, it's really very different.

I would be inclined to believe the Money.CNN folks who told you it's no big deal -- for them. In other words, I do NOT believe it's sneaky or anything like that.

But for the rest of the world (non-journalists), this MUST be very confusing!

I asked Wastler if CNN/Money had ever thought about archiving older story versions as new ones appeared, and linking from the new versions to the older, archived ones. He said, "The name of the game is speed, getting [stories] up on the site." He talked of the sheer number of stories a site like his publishes daily, and how loading any more work on his editorial staff, like moving old story versions to an archive, "would bog things down." I pointed out that this was something a simple script could do with a single "replace story/move old story to archive" click from an editor, and his reply was, "Well, I am not as technical as you... I don't know about that."

(This was not a hostile conversation. Wastler reads Slashdot now and then and likes it, and says, "My tech guys love Slashdot." Perhaps one of you Slashdot-reading CNN tech guys could talk to Wastler and other CNN editors about automatic story versioning. Wastler said that because of syndication deals and inbound links, his main concern was keeping a stable URL for each story even if went through a series of updates. This should not be hard to arrange.)

Future Directions for Online News

In a followup email, Bruce Koon said the idea of constant story updates on the Internet should not surprise anyone. His exact words:

How is the model different from TV or radio broadcast news? As news gets reported as it's happening, facts are going to change, new developments are happening. If anything, we've been trying to get newspapers away from this notion that they print once. The Internet is about continuous updates and reporting.

Also, unlike Slashdot or other new forms of information gathering and reporting, news audiences only go to a news site a few times a day to read what the latest news is. Most seem to know that the version of the story they're reading now is different from what they read before, just as they know the top of the hour report on the radio news may be different from what they heard two hours earlier.

Based on Koon's statement, the long term question seems to be whether Internet news evolution should be based on a broadcast model, with broadcast-style immediacy as its most important goal, or whether it should be based on a print model that assumes we are writing the "first rough draft of history" so that what we say today has archival significance tomorrow.

I think the two patterns are going to coexist, and rather than "convergence" we are going to see a gradual divergence between the two as "Internet news" simply becomes "news" instead of being seen as different or separate from other media. Watching how readers (viewers?) react to this change (assuming they notice it at all) over the next decade or so is going to be interesting.

A big part of the change is going to be figuring out how to maintain audience trust when it is so easy to digitally morph stories, pictures and almost anything else into states that are far different from their original ones. As Nachison points out, despite the apparently transitory nature of online news, nothing on the Internet ever quite goes away. It is all archived or cached somewhere once it gets into digital form, whether it was originally prepared for delivery on the Internet, on printed pages or for cable or over-the-air broadcast.

Professor Sreenivasan says, "We're all in the early days of this business. We need to evolve standards."

That we do. But is the "we" who evolves standards going to be the people who read (or view) the news or is "we" going to be the people who produce it? And that leads to another question: Where will we draw the line between reporters and readers/viewers, or will we even bother to differentiate between them, when PDAs with broadband wireless connections and built-in digital video cameras become common, everyday consumer items?

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Online News Stories that Change Behind Your Back

Comments Filter:
  • Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JimPooley (150814) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:13AM (#3490265) Homepage
    And this, kiddies, is why traditional media is best. You can't go back and change yesterday's newspapers.
    • True... and I think for that reason, Weekly news magazines are the most realiable, since even newspapers have to deal with a daily headline, and often have to go to press with an incomplete story.

      And, like you said, you can't change the magazine once it's out in print.
    • Orwell's 1984 (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BACbKA (534028)
      The ministry of truth did just that - changing yesterday newspapers based on what the today's party official line was.

      And Orwell didn't invent this himself - this is precisely what the Soviet system did back in the days of Stalin. Whenever yet another party big shot "turned out to be the Soviet people enemy", i.e. convicted in yet another truth-mocking trial, he was carefully removed from all the old newspapers, books and especially school textbooks. It's amazing to think just how much images with Trotsky were edited in that manner...
      • Re:Orwell's 1984 (Score:5, Informative)

        by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:46AM (#3490498) Homepage Journal
        And Orwell didn't invent this himself - this is precisely what the Soviet system did back in the days of Stalin.
        Actually, the Ministry Of Truth was based almost entirely on his experiences working for the BBC during the WWII, where news was frequently changed for propaganda purposes. Even the BBC acknowledge this. [bbc.co.uk]
      • I am glad someone brought this up. Perhaps we should hear from Winston Smith?

        Both his biography and the documentry on his life lead one to believe that he was eliminated at the end, but some of us know the real story. He is alive and well. I have it memorized and will pass it along to my son before I make my time.

        Warmest reguards,
        Guy Montag
    • Updating the news (Score:3, Insightful)

      by T1girl (213375)
      You can't go back and change yesterday's newspapers.

      Yes, but you can update the articles throughout the day as later editions roll off the press. I used to work for an afternoon newspaper, covering court trials. You would have to write one version of the story, perhaps speculating on what was going to happen, for the early editions that went out to outlying counties, then file another story with the morning highlights of the trial for the editions delivered to homes within the city, then try to get something sensational splashed across the front page for the final edition that was sold on the downtown streets. The focus of the story could change throughout the day, and often another reporter would be sent in to make sure you didn't miss anything while the first reporter was outside the courtroom filing a report (no laptop usage was allowed inside the courtroom).
  • by Vodak (119225) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:14AM (#3490271)
    story changing constantly without making note of it... sounds hella like 1984 to me.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:47AM (#3490504)
      No, we've always been at war with Afghanistan. Wait, I mean Iraq.
      • No, we've always been at war with Afghanistan. Wait, I mean Iraq.

        Yes, I understand what the poster is saying, but this has to be about the stupidest /. post today. By the logic here, we should still be dropping bombs on Germany, because hey, it's a Bad Thing to ever change who we're fighting against.

        Unless I'm missing something; perhaps I didn't see the Pentagon briefing where they stated that 9-11 had nothing to do with the continuing war against Al Queda (sp).
    • > story changing constantly without making note of it... sounds hella like 1984 to me.

      Some sick individuals view this as a feature, not a bug.

      When this happens, these people presume that what was changed (and the more extensive the attempt to cover up the fact of the change) has some bearing on reality than what replaced it.

      Personally, I feel disappointment when I notice the malreports and misprints. Sloppy work is one thing, but this is more than sloppy, it's dangerous. At this early, critical stage (when the malquotes may still bear some resemblance to reality), it's horrible OPSEC. It may actually enable such misguided individuals to make educated guesses as to who wanted the change and why they wanted it changed. The whole damn thing could come unglued.

      For the diseased folks who actually keep track of these sorts of miniscule things when there are plenty of bright shiny things to look at, fine - go ahead and do your dirty work in the privacy of your own mind (for now), but don't ever keep copies the old malreported news stories around. Miniluv hates that.

      (Are you listening, you RCS/CVS developers? You see what kind of treason you're enabling with your so-called "revision control" tools? Knock it right off this instant! Minitrue believes in Revision Control - the real kind, not the Goldsteinist malreport-preservation you do! How dare you corrupt Newspeak by calling that revision control! How on earth can you control revisions when you have a complete history of every change made? Pure Goldsteinism!)

  • I would recommend people stay away from main news sources, especially ones based on the AOL-TW or MS/NBC megaliths.

    Because AOL is Evil [danheskett.com]

    But seriously, CNN/MS*.* are unreliable news sources that cannot be trusted.
  • by PoiBoy (525770) <brian&poiholdings,com> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:15AM (#3490284) Homepage
    If you subscribe to news wires such as Bloomberg, Reuters, Dow Jones, AP, etc. if a story is revised the title usually indicates that, and the first few paragraphs of the article mention what was changed from previous versions.

    As far as websites, if you read, for example, the business news feeds on finance.yahoo.com you will see exactly the same thing.

    I guess it's more just a matter of convenience for consumer-oriented websites to ignore the details.

    • Um, no they don't... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I worked at Dow Newswires for 10 years, and was a member of the IPTC/NAA (International Press Telecommunication Council/National Newspaper Assoc. of America).

      Here's how it goes, and has done so "forever", in most electronic news services...

      Follow-ons may have an indicator suggesting which "take" this item is. This is the orderly disclosure of news as it develops, as mentioned in the story. So, as an IBM announcment is being read, you might see...

      IBM earnings Company says econ improved greatly
      IBM earnings -2- up 1.00 over last year
      IBM earnings -3- revenue up 20%

      But, the systems also allow stories to be deleted, replaced, or changed post-publication. Rarely, if ever, is there any indication this has happened, or what those changes were. Most contracts even prohibit distributors from keeping, or indicating, what changes were made.

      As a rule, this is done so bad info can be retracted/corrected as quickly as possible. This limits potential damages from libel, since a real-time fix demonstrates both lack of intent and minimizes the number of people that view bad v. correct data. Sometimes, but not always, the story will indicate the story you're viewing is a correction for a previous one you may have read.

      How this is used is a matter of editorial discretion. Some companies, like Bloomberg, Reuters, Dow Jones, and AP are pretty good about using the tools appropriately. They usually indicate when matrial changes (other than spelling/grammer) have been made in the story text itself. The worst case is story deletes, you never know when "I saw XYZ on the services" will make you a lier.

      But, as in all matters of discretion, some ompanies have, well, a little less integrity than others.

      Although I'm sure it's happened, I don't think I've seen the reputable services make a practice of "re-drafting" a story post-pub.

      Not that this would change much. In this case, Microsoft may not have made a phone call, but the re-draft was quite likely a matter of the existing business sensibilities with MSFT. "Final Readers" in the better services would have simply rejected the story pre-pub, and pushed it back into the process, for a re-write in that "more balanced" way.

  • by SealBeater (143912) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:16AM (#3490287) Homepage
    Same thing happened in Orwell's 1984. Say what you want, mod me as you like,
    but that was one of the central ideas of the book, news articles, etc, being
    changed after the fact. If you went back and did any research, you would find
    that the news agency/authority in charge of information was always right.
    In more mundane terms, you really have to wonder about a news agency that
    changes it's story and doesn't even post a retraction.

    SealBeater
    • That, IMO, was the scarist part of the book. The revision of history was one of the main causes of double-think, and double-think was the most powerful tool the gov't had in that book IMO.
    • interesting you say that. i saw this story and read it, mentioned it to a co-worker and that CNN was involved, and we quite interested. We (my research group) has a paper upcoming where we reference news articles, including one or two from CNN.com. Granted, the story is from 2000, and probably wont change given that similar articles appear elsewhere. Maybe we'll try to dig up a second reference.
    • There is a huge difference though.

      In 1984, Big Brother made up his own 'truth' as convenient for the moment. If was was expedient to change it, then the 'truth' changed.

      In news reporting, an initial story may have inaccuracies. One hopes that with each revision, the reported story becomes closer and closer to the actual truth. It is fairly unlikely that the original story is better than the revised one.

      Most consumers of news aren't interested in older and less-accurate versions of a story. It's quicker and easier to read the most-accurate-so-far version than to read the initial version and then mentally overlay all the updates.

      I guess the latter approach appeals more to geek-types because we tend to be more interested in the mechanics of things. Irrelevant details matter to geeks 8-)
    • If you think that's already bad, just wait 'till they start applying DMCA-like laws to news acticles. You can view the article, but cannot make a backup copy of it. Then the link changes. You notice the change, but you cannot even prove it changed because there's no way you can get the older article without violating the law. That's getting even closer to 1984...
    • by jibs (117987) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @11:06AM (#3491045) Homepage
      'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls
      the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And
      yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been
      altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to
      everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an
      unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality
      control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'
      - George Orwell's "1984" http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

      Should History Record the Unvarnished Bush?
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articl es/A565 56-2002Apr15.html

      By Dana Milbank
      Tuesday, April 16, 2002; Page A17

      Last Tuesday was one for the presidential blooper reel.

      At a speech in Bridgeport, Conn., President Bush declared that he wanted each American to volunteer for "4,000 years," a variation of his usual call for "4,000 hours" that produced guffaws in the audience. Later, at a fundraiser, Bush bestowed a new name on Connecticut's lieutenant governor, Jodi Rell. "I appreciate Lieutenant Governor Judi Kell for being here," he said. "Great to see you again, Judi."

      Whatever, says Cathleen Hinsch, a spokeswoman for Rell. "You don't correct the president."

      But the White House does. Both goofs, and accompanying laughter, were stricken from the record -- deus ex machina -- in the official White House transcripts.

      A similar sanitizing occurred the day before, in Knoxville, Tenn., when Bush was interrupted by hecklers shouting about Enron and the counterterrorism campaign -- an unusual occurrence noted in news accounts of the speech. Federal News Service, a private organization, transcribed the boos, shouts and cheers, along with the president's struggle to deliver his lines:

      [PRESIDENT BUSH]: I've come to highlight what works, so others around the country, if they're interested in --

      MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE: (Chanting.) (Inaudible.)

      PRESIDENT BUSH: -- if you're interested --

      MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE: (Chanting.) (Inaudible.)

      PRESIDENT BUSH: -- if you're interested in doing what is right to encourage your citizens to become involved -- (chanting continues from the audience) -- and so I want to thank the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, for showing Americans -- (chanting continues from the audience) -- for showing Americans how best to help their communities. (Cheers, applause.)

      The official White House transcript made no mention of the hecklers or Bush's false starts.

      The opposition sees a Soviet-style move to airbrush infelicitous phrases. "These transcripts are done for near-term history as well as long-term history and it's a real problem if they start rewriting them," said Joe Lockhart, a former press secretary for President Bill Clinton. "The White House is rewriting history."

      Lockhart said the Clinton administration never cleaned up transcripts except to correct spelling, but veteran correspondents recall the practice occurring in both Democratic and GOP administrations. Lockhart's predecessor, Mike McCurry, said he gave White House stenographers "some leeway" to repair verbal abuses, including the task of "restoring 'g' to the English language" when Clinton's accent deleted the sound.

      On Capitol Hill, lawmakers routinely "revise and extend" their remarks in the Congressional Record.

      Still, lawmakers do not benefit from the sort of real-time foot-noting available to a president. In Missouri last month, Bush expressed his desire for "making the death tax permanent." The White House transcript placed an asterisk next to the blooper and a footnote saying "should read 'death tax repeal.' "

      In February, Bush baffled some listeners when he said he had spoken with the Japanese prime minister about "the devaluation issue" and told Japan's parliament the United States and Japan had been allies "for a century and a half." Asterisks in the official transcript indicated Bush meant to say "deflation" and "half a century."

      The most public allegation of transcript sanitizing was last September, when White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warned that Americans "need to watch what they say." The phrase did not at first appear in the White House transcript.

      The White House stenographers are respected professionals employed by a private contractor. Marshall Jorpeland of the National Court Reporters Association said the stenographers would not independently veer from verbatim. "When people hire us they expect a word-for-word account," he said. "In terms of cleaning it up on their own, I don't think they'd do that without that being the guidance."

      So are Bush aides providing "guidance"?

      White House spokeswoman Anne Womack noted that the transcripts have at times included hecklers and Bush-coined words such as "misunderestimated." "We view the transcripts as a historical record of the presidency," she said. "We expect accuracy and commend the stenographers for their excellent work."

      Cleaning quotes can be hazardous. Recently, a White House transcript had Bush talking about stock options that "earn the money," when in fact the president had correctly used the Wall Street jargon "in the money." The confusion prompted an incorrect news report that Bush was shifting policy. In this case, Bush was better left unscrubbed.

      © 2002 The Washington Post Company
  • Of course its wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by dalassa (204012)
    Changning a story to give it a difference balance is if nothing else on the slightly scummy side.

    If they want to add more information or change the view of the story than what they should do is:
    1) Post a short summary while they still don't know all the facts.
    2) On the same page, but clearly timestamped, the later facts or views.

    This would allow news sites to keep their integrity and change their minds. Also, the internet is a fluid medium, the old rules of printing on paper don't apply. Dynamic stories probably take more effort but are in the end more satisfying.

    At least I understand now why the offical citation for the internet includes the time downloaded to the closest second.
  • Oh really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by toupsie (88295) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:20AM (#3490330) Homepage
    Slashdot. Pot. Kettle. Black. Rinse. Repeat.

    • Slashdot. Pot. Kettle. Black. Rinse. Repeat.


      This is good, but I ask that the Slashdot community choose a new fashionable catch phrase, such as "ad nauseum" or "until the cows come home", for this week.
  • TV vs Newspaper (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jefferson (95937) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:23AM (#3490354) Homepage
    I can understand why CNN thinks this is no big deal. CNN was (and is) primarily a TV news station. On TV news, there is no archive or changelog for writethroughs: the copy gets rewritten, and the reporter or anchor reads it on the air. The only way you notice the changes is if you happened to see a previous version of the story earlier in the day.

    CNN obviously sees the web as a translation of their TV news business, rather than as a translation of a print-news wire service business, so to them it seems fine! To them the web is a transient medium, like TV, not a fixed medium like print.

    Of course, at first glance this seems fine, until linking of stories factors into the equation.

    Of course, there are technological solutions to this, but getting CNN to adopt them could be a challenge, because it means converting them from a TV mindset to a print mindset.

    • There absolutely *is* and archive. All broadcast material is archived on tape, I believe by law. The difference with a website is that anything cah be changed at any time, without anyone but the webmaster knowing anything about it.
      • Re:TV vs Newspaper (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jefferson (95937)
        There absolutely *is* and archive. All broadcast material is archived on tape Who cares? It's inaccessible to the viewers. Nobody links to a specific airing of a TV story and expects it to be the same the next time they see it.
  • I don't see why this is an issue at all.

    At the end of the day if a given source provide their take on a story then that's their take. Whether their first take, last take or whatever best matches your own views seems irrevelant.

    If there any indication that a bews source changed it's story due to outside pressure than that would of course affect their credibility, but you'd be naieve not to think that there were biases, angles and prudent decisions built into the way any story is reported.

    • by Esgaroth (515377)
      The problem is after-news sites like Slashdot. The original was linked and the slashdot story [slashdot.org] mentioned the complete misunderstanding of what KDE and Gnome were by the witness. This wasn't mentioned at all in the updated article.

      This is a big deal to after-news sites.

  • by Etcetera (14711) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:25AM (#3490366) Homepage

    Prior to the immediately-updating news requirements caused by the 9/11 attacks, CNN had a very reasonable method for dealing with this.

    The initial story created had an URL like http://www.cnn.com/2000/books/news/07/07/harrypott er.preps/ [cnn.com] while the next "revision" would have http://www.cnn.com/2000/books/news/07/07/harrypott er.preps.02/ [cnn.com] and so on...

    A very good system IMO which allowed one to link to a specific version of an article, and allowed the reader to see the progress and revisions of a story if they were smart enough to notice the numbers at the top. As long as their internal database stayed up to date, the front page always linked to the latest version.

    During and after 9/11, articles were updated so frequently that the major stories (on all news sites) became "newest information" pages rather than articles per-se. Since then, I've noticed hardly any articles posted using the old systems, with revisions now being made in place.

    CNN please bring back the old method! It made sense and was a fair method of dealing with this issue!
    • by Uglor (39632) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:49AM (#3490523)
      Actually, each of those stories could have been a writethrough as well.

      I worked at CNN.com from 1998-2001. The main newsroom was staffed 24 hours a day in 8 hour shifts. Each shift set up a rundown their top stories and coverage. Frequently a top story would get a full rewrite for each shift (02, 03, etc) while other times it would just be freshened with a new intro and possibly new pictures but the same url.

      And CNN.com policy was to put a new timestamp on a story if you changed ANYTHING.
    • If you read Yahoo wire reports, Reuters or AP, the stories still have version numbers on them.

      From the current "World News" Reuters feed (no, I'm not going to bother making this a link):

      Israel mideast story:
      http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=stor y&ncid=5 86&e=3&cid=586&u=/nm/20020509/wl_nm/mideast_dc_206 5

      Which superceded the previous version:

      http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&ncid =5 86&e=3&cid=586&u=/nm/20020509/wl_nm/mideast_dc_206 3

      Notice the "2065" and "2063" at the end of the URL. Those are version numbers. Does make you wonder what happened to 2064, it comes up "not found" at yahoo.

      But some services still do that.
  • This whole thing is wildly inaccurate. If you're using these numbers to do anything important, you're insane.
  • by Patman (32745) <pmgeahan-slashdot&thepatcave,org> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:28AM (#3490383) Homepage

    I read both versions. The first was skewed heavily towards the performance of one witness in the trial.
    The second was a much more well-reasoned discussion of the case as a whole vs. one tiny piece of it.

    So what's the problem? The second story seems to be better-written and easier to read, and contains more information.

    It's not like they changed the facts of the story; just the scope and the level of detail.

    As an aside, does anyone else find it funny that a site that claims to be "News for Nerds", yet claims they shouldn't be handle to any journalistic standards, thinks that they have the right to call other news services on minor issues like this? At least those folks are trying.

  • More disturbing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Archie Steel (539670) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:28AM (#3490385)
    ...are (admittedly controversial) articles that are posted on a major news web site, then taken off a few days later, like this one [1accesshost.com], or this other one [democrats.com]. This is a dangerous trend, and asks a sensitive question: why "remove" stories instead of putting out counter-arguments? Freedom of speech has it that you can say anything (almost: libel and slander are not acceptable), but anyone can challenge what you say by bringing their own arguments to the discussion. Too often, though, the american media silences alternative viewpoints by excluding them from the debate, so that the public doesn't even know they existe. Case in point: how come Chomsky hasn't been invited to present his views about the 9/11 events on television? If his arguments are so weak as the conservative pundits claim, why not simply try to prove him wrong on the air? Well, there's a good answer to that: they can't, and they know it. So they just ignore his existence altogether, and immediately try to discredit him (without ever challenging his arguments) whenever he is mentioned. Quite revealing...
    • In the NYT case (read the stuff at the democrats.com link in the parent), it seems like there was a legitimate case for not publishing the original story. Here's a summary for those who don't want to follow the link: 1) NYT publishes story on bin Laden on 9/8, 2) NYT yanks the story a day or two later because it didn't make it into the print edition, 3) terrorists linked to bin Laden attack the US on 9/11, 4) NYT revises the article to account for 9/11 and run the article on 9/12 in both print and online editions. It is a policy of the NYT not to run online stories that don't get into the print edition. Nothing scary or dangerous here, just keeping the print in sync with the online editions. Note that many stories don't make it into a given edition of a print paper, they have space issues, deadlines, timeliness, etc. to contend with so not everything gets printed.

      Sure, in hindsight it looks like the bin Laden story on 9/8 was EXTREMELY important. But don't forget that 9/11 hadn't happened yet! We've known about bin Laden for years, we've known that he is capable of dastardly deeds. This didn't prevent the embassy bombings, it didn't prevent the attack on the USS Cole, it didn't prevent the 9/11 hijackings, and just knowing about certain terrorists existence won't prevent future attacks. So someday something bad will happen, and you'll point back to [insert a date here] when [insert FBI memo/news story/etc here] seems extremely prescient. But in fact it wasn't because there are dozens of other dates and memos that contained similar but inaccurate warnings.

      Whew. Sorry, got a little offtopic there, but recent news stories have gotten me going. I'll stop now.
    • Case in point: how come Chomsky hasn't been invited to present his views about the 9/11 events on television?

      Uh, because he is a stupid, fucking anti-semitic asshole that hates Western Culture and America with a passion because no one gives a shit about his narrow minded, hate based dialogue. If it were not for the US liberal colleges, the man wouldn't know how to earn a living or even feed himself. Chompsky is up there with the David Dukes and Louis Farahkans in our society. Nothing more than a hateful racist with a small following of whacked out, bigoted idiots.

  • While going through college, one of my classmates had a friend who was a sport reporter for a major wire news service, and he (the reporter) had to write the news as it was happening from TWO different perspectives, and the one that got used would depend on which team won.

    It's a common practice in sport websites that provide live coverage, like the one I frequent most, Sportsline.com [sportsline.com] that the lead story is often written and rewritten during the course of a live game, depending on how it progresses. That's sometimes the price you have for near-real-time news.
    • Thats fine if it is marked so that people either know what has changed or at the very least that what they are reading will change.

      If the article has a line close to the header saying "this article is being updated as we follow the story" or something like that, then nobody would reasonably expect to be able to go back to it later and find the same static content.

      The issue is being predictable. If I'm told a story will likely change I will save a copy if there is something in it I want to preserve.

      Similarly, if CNN just says on their pages "our stories are regularly changed without notice when new information becomes available" I would just not rely on anything on the CNN site for reference.

      The web is close to print media in some ways and close to broadcast media in other ways, and that causes confusion to readers. The least the news site operators could do is to inform their readers on how they are handling updates so that readers can make informed choices about what level of trust to place in a particular source.

  • by gamorck (151734) <jaylittle AT jaylittle DOT com> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:31AM (#3490402) Homepage
    For finally showing slashdot what it takes to create a real news story. While I do find it amusing that slashdot engages in the same practices that you seem to rebel against here, I think its actually quite impressive that:

    (1) Actual research was done by a slashdot employee for this article. Roblimo actually took the time to call a CNN employee and allow them to confirm/deny the allegations at hand.

    (2) Roblimo doesnt appear to jump to any "off the wall" conspiracy conclusions as some editors here have been known to do. He leaves that for the comment posters to do :-)

    (3) The article is very balanced all in all. I think Roblimo is attempting to present both sides of the story and give the reader a chance to make up his own mind. Now that is true journalism.

    In short thank your Roblimo for helping to raise the bar here at /. I can only hope that the other editors learn from your example and attempt to follow suit.

    J
    • by selan (234261) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @10:06AM (#3490616) Journal
      I have to admit I don't understand why so many people consider /. to be "journalism".

      The majority of /. stories are links to news, features, rumors, innuendo, etc. originating elsewhere on the web. Some links are to legitimate news stories and others are less so. The "editors" merely post links that they find interesting and add their own purely subjective opinions (they've never claimed to be objective). Then we all comment and discuss amongst ourselves.

      The only /. stories that are actually original journalism are the features [slashdot.org], including this one by Roblimo and, yes, JonKatz's articles. So if it's real journalism you want, read JonKatz.

    • This is the type of article that makes me want to subscribe.
  • Slashdot does this fairly often, in fact. For example, the "James Doohan Not In A Coma and Likely To Survive [slashdot.org]" story was originally titled "James Doohan In A Coma And Not Likely To Survive", and was modified on-the-fly as more facts became available. Very confusing.

  • Newspapers Change (Score:4, Informative)

    by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:38AM (#3490448) Homepage Journal
    There seems to be this assumption that what I read in "Mytown Daily Tattler" is the same as you do - it isn't.

    Many papers (larger ones) have a series of runs that are printed at varying times. There are also often local editions. Thus I may get the early-am run and you might get the late morning one. Or I may get the downtown edition and you the suburban.

    Any of these papers might vary from the others. The story "Sun Rises" might become "Sun Rises Brightly". Or it might be replaced with "Grass Grows" or something else completely different.

    No, what you've read or clipped out doesn't magically go back and erase or rewrite itself but it is also quite possibly not the same as everyone else in the classroom / office / nursing home read.

    I agree a versioning system would be great for newpspers. Heck, many (incl. large ones like the Boston Globe) lack stable URLS for daily stories for the move from current to archived.

    I also respect that this additionial material would be likely disturb readers who prefer their news solid and immutable and would be unhappy to see the changes a story they're reading has gone through. Seeing how the facts evolve and the wroters tone changes, perhaps dramatically.

    And yes there is the problem of links pointing to stale versions of a story, the extra material to be stored, indexed, & archived, etc.

    Versioning is a good idea and one I've heard brought up many times but to date the practice seems to follow the print style. Declare the last edition of a run the definitive one, the final version of a story the actual story.

  • by thumbtack (445103) <thumbtack AT juno DOT com> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @09:39AM (#3490453)
    The following took place on the tube, not the web: After the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, killing the crew and school teacher Chirsta McAuliffe, I saw a news story several times on Headline News where a particular insurance company had issued a 1 Million Dollar policy to her, and would now have to pay off on it. It just so happened that my ex was the executive secretary to the president of the company. I spoke with her by phone shortly after seeing the story, and mentioned it to her. She totally freaked out, "How did you know that?" That's not public knowledge!". I told her I saw it on CNN Headline News, She made a rapid exit and promised she would call me back in a little while. The insurance company concentrated on business insurance and usually didn't handle individual policies. She called back about an hour later thanking me for the heads up. The story never appeared again. I asked her about it and all she would say was "It was handled."
  • What's the deal? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jdavidb (449077)

    They do this on slashdot all the time. I kept the original article on slashdot about the September 11 attacks up for a few days because it had changed so much. The original seemed to express more shock than the final version.

  • Although this problem is an especially serious one when it comes to journalism, it's a general problem with the WWW. Sometimes one wants to link to a specific version of a webpage or examine the changes that have made. One solution is to use RCS to keep track of page versions, and use a web server extension (such as an apache module [scu.edu.au]) that allows access to the changelog and to past versions. I would love to see this implemented widely...

    I hacked up a little perl script [splorg.org] demonstrating the idea. Now each of my web pages can have a "this page contains version information" link to its changelog.

    And then there's VMS which has versioning built into the filesystem...
    • That's a great tool. Unfortunately, it has to be run on the server side, which means that the server operator can override it whenever they want to change the past. I think a secure solution has to be client-side.

      Maybe we need web.archive.org or something like that to continually archive major news sources and diff them, keeping all diffs that they find. Then it would be possible to look at the evolution of the story over time, whether the original publisher likes it or not.

  • The world changes and so does the news. If I read a story that is developing, I'd rather read a single cohesive document rather than an initial report followed by a truckload of corrections and additions. I read enough changelogs in my job, I really do not want to have to deal with it when I'm checking the market. Just give me the latest stuff. If I want an update, I can go back to my bookmark and get the update.
    • The big deal is that when a person or a company is trying to coverup something that they don't wan the public to know. I think it's a major problem. In traditional news outlets (ie magazines, newspapers, tv) once a report is out, it is out. People can refer to it and see things change through history. However, if we can't guarantee that for the internet, how can we make it an legitimate source of reference. The web will become even more so a.. "put up anything as news..we can always change it later"

      Take for example this analysis of the Chavez reporting from the Associate Press [emperors-clothes.com]. They totally changed the story. [Read that link..it's actually quite damning]
  • Bit ironic to see on slashdot, where there are frequently (maybe twice a day) unmarked minor corrections to stories due to comments which point out problems (the URL doesn't work, the title has a typo, etc). Of course, more major updates do get marked as such, presumably so that readers will reread them.

    First of all, there's no reason you can't fetch yourself a copy of a story in the morning, and then read it whenever you want, refer back to it on a later date, compare it with a later edition, etc. In fact, if anything prevented this, we wouldn't have this article. It's not like you can call up a newspaper and ask them to print you yesterday's paper. If you want to see yesterday's paper, you look at a copy produced by the company yesterday, achived by you or someone else. It's not the news people's job to write history; it's their job to write current events. As things change, it's not their job to tell you about the past.

    Should they mark updates? Yes, but for the same reason that slashdot marks them: it is a disservice to people who read the original or people the original was unfavorable to if the new version is not marked as such, because people won't reread the article, and will not know about the new information.
  • I had this same argument with a friend who used to be the editor for our national broadcaster's online news service [www.rte.ie]. He was very surprised that I considered it an issue, and thought that it was in fact an advantage of the web over traditional media, that you could seamlessly update and modify stories. He wasn't swayed by the 1984 comparison, or the point that he was deleting a valuable historical reference. But then he was working for an organisation that recorded over the Wanderly Wagon [google.com] archive tapes rather than buy new ones.

    It's funny the way we're ending up with a de facto, distributed Big Brother. Life eh.
  • by rusty0101 (565565)
    For people who's lives are not directly impacted by the stories that are reported, I don't see a problem with re-writes of stories. On the other hand, almost every story has a direct impact on someone.

    Let's say that a writer for WSJ reports that Cisco has done major cuts to it's overhead in a story three days ago. If you invest in Cisco, this would peque your interest. You might even realize that the primary way companies have cut overhead is to get rid of either part of their development team, or part of their support team. Either solution may provide you the impetus to sell part of your stock, as they both lead you to the conclusion that they have made a short term profit decision that will negatively impact long term results.

    A day later Cisco reports a major increase in profits as a result of their decision to cut overhead. The stock jumps 18% the next day.

    You decide to go take a look at the story again, and find that now the URL returns a story by a different author with glowing reports of the profitability of the company.

    If you sold your stock before the quarterly results posted, you took a major hit on the potential for your earnings for the stock. The new story does not support your decision. The decision to sell was yours, but it was guided by a story that you can't find anymore, and because of the newspaper's guidelines stating that it is ok to "revise without notification" stories on-line, you are left holding the bag, and even more skeptical of what you read online.

    There are only two possible solutions to this that I can see. Either the online newspapers take responsibility and provide notification to the readers that the stories they may be relying upon have been updated, or some tool needs to be developed that will allow a user to flag stories for monitoring that will notify them if the story has been updated.

    Unfortunately either will impact the newspaper's bandwidth.

    Then again, I don't own stock in Cisco, (though I should get some) so at the moment such a story would not directly impact me.

    -Rusty

  • Excellent story, Roblimo. Really good story.

    I will certainly trust CNN less.

    The subhead of the CNN story is "MIT professor takes stand again after fumbling answers as states' attorney grilled him Wednesday." I will trust MIT less, also. Someone who is thinking of applying to MIT should perhaps re-consider their choice. How many other professors there would participate in an attempt to mislead the Court?
    • Where did you get that he attempted to mislead the court? He 'fumbled.' Fumble is a term used in american football to describe the act of accidentally dropping the ball, giving the other team a chance to pick it up.
      It is not a deliberate act, just like the MIT Prof in question's fumble wasn't deliberate, either. Simply put, this professor was a bad witness. Smart guy, bad witness. He got flustered and stumbled over his words. This does not make him a liar.

      And if you're suggesting that someone not attend MIT just because one professor likes Microsoft, you're an ignorant git and should be hit by a bus, fall on a soup spoon, get cancer and die.

      • If that is the level of intelligence to be expected at MIT, then be afraid of paying them good money to go there. Remember, where there are ignorant people there are likely to be more ignorant people.

        It was not the fumbling that was an attempt to mislead the Court. It was the attempt to mislead the Court that was an attempt to mislead the Court.
  • by The Madpostal Worker (122489) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (sorraba)> on Thursday May 09, 2002 @10:21AM (#3490711)
    writethroughs and changing the story is that the writethoughs are _obvious_ and you get get old versions. Sometimes I work with AP write stories and if its been written through its in the titile so a story that start out as "HOUSE FIRE IN CT" changes to "HOUSE FIRE IN CT 2nd Writethough". Not only changes, but a new story shows up. So you can still get all the old verisons.

    This cnn business sounds more like changing the story beacuse of editorial pressue.
  • for deep linking...
  • It would be cool if Google or other search engines could track this kind of thing. When linking to a page it could tell you how much of the textual content of the page had changed, and how recently. For things like the 'home page' of a news site this is useless, they change all the time anyway. So there would need to be some heuristic for detecting 'sneaky modifications' to a body of text.
  • Slashdot was guilty of some rather significant rewriting -- without their usual "Update:" -- of a story back in June 2001.

    http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=01/06/24/224620 2 [slashdot.org]
  • I think there should be a toggle on a news story that emails you if the story changes. I know I often send the URL of stories to friends and my assumption is that the article at the URL will be the same as when I sent it.

    This is particularly hard to deal with if there was a single point or phrase I wanted to convey that later was edited out.

    At the very least, there should be a "View older versions" link so you can see the revisions made. Even if they had some disclaimer that there was newer information at another location (that was linked as well).

  • washingtonpost.com (Score:4, Informative)

    by EReidJ (551124) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @11:03AM (#3491022) Homepage
    I just want to make a note on this board that washingtonpost.com never does this. They assign each article a unique identifier, and that article lives forever in that database with that identifier. Corrections to the article are always appended with a "Corrections" box attached to the article, the article is never changed (except for superficial, editing changes) after the article is published. Currently, all articles that have been bookmarked are readable, all the way back to 1986.

    Permanence in URL's: It's got to be the media's promise to everyone.

  • Ethical Journalism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ChaoticCoyote (195677) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @11:12AM (#3491089) Homepage

    Modifying an article after publication is acceptable -- and it's a Good Thing if the revision fixes errors or omissions.

    Modifying an article and not telling anyone is a Bad Thing called a "lie."

    A case in point: Yesterday, I posted a benchmark comparison [coyotegulch.com] of Intel's "non-commercial" C++ compiler and gcc. Several people gave me suggestions for improving gcc's performance, and I updated the article today -- with clearly marked additions and explanations of what changed and why. That's journalism on the web.

    What CNET is doing is called lying.

  • Look at the latest story.

    Terrorists attack US with pipe bombs.
    (changed)
    US Pipe boomer at large.
    (changed)
    Father-in-law turns in pipe bomber.

    Rewriting news to fit the current scope or concept of the news does an injustice to factual reporting. You need to follow a story from start to finish. If you jump to the end, you must accept someone else conclusion as facts.

    *Update.
    Bush wins presidency in Florida. Recount favored President elect Bush.

    -
    The one who writes the history books wins...
  • This is nothing new, as the article itself points out. Newspapers and wire services have been doing the same thing for decades. New facts come in, stories change, mistakes are fixed. This has nothing to do with Orwell or other nebulous conspiracies.

    There's no obligation for a news source to keep around old versions of their articles/broadcasts/whatever in a publically accessible form. If something in the article is wrong or incomplete, then fix it, post the corrected version, and zap the old version.

    Besides, why would someone want to deliberately link to a version of the story that's deemed incorrect by the news source presenting the story? It's hard enough to get people to pay attention to corrections and retractions--why, aside from historical curiosity, should we deliberately perpetuate a flawed story?

    I'd be pretty annoyed if I got all worked up over a story only to find that I was being given bad information (not that that ever happens on Slashdot, of course ;)

    Deliberately disengaging a realtime discussion thread from the most recent developments on the topic under discussion seems like a bad idea to me.
    • It is a problem because it in a sense is "rewriting history". You can point people to a news story saying something important, only to discover that when they get there the story is dramatically different. That something important might be something the editor or journalist or advertizer doesn't want disseminated by the public. Any updates, however small, without proper notice, makes the media unsuitable to reference without also ensuring to take a copy first.

      With newspapers this traditionally hasn't been an issue, since old copies are normally archived, and getting access to previous versions of a story normally wouldn't be a problem.

      For TV this has always been a problem, but it isn't an issue since a TV broadcast isn't persistent - you have to make a copy (a recording) to have something to refer to in the first place.

      The internet falls somewhere in between. The nature of many sites give the impression that the news reports are persistent when in fact they often are not.

      This is not only a problem when referring to an article, but also when using articles as background material for other work. Without a changelog the original article and an updated article may look superficially the same, but one may contain grave errors that you'd only notice on a detailed reading.

      If you go back to check on something, having a reference to a changelog should make it obvious to you that you need to check whether the change affects your use of the material.

      In effect, updating an article in a way that make it seem static to users seriously reduce the value of that article for many purposes.

      As others has noted, it also seriously reduce the incentive to ensure the reporting is correct. If you can gloss over your errors and blatantly wrong reporting by updating the article with practically noone noticing, you can push the publish button so much earlier, and do your proof reading and fact checking after you've beat the competition.

      Personally I've frequently found gross errors on news sites I read that has silently been corrected when I've pointed them out - in one case an article had completely confused two different people involved in two completely different trials, resulting in an article that had nothing to with reality. In that case the article was just pulled, but no errata was published.

      A reader that went back to their site later would indeed not find the story any more, but on the other hand they would find no indication that the article previously there was complete and utter junk. They might keep spreading the errors in talking to people and writing about the article because the site did not have enough respect for their readers to inform them of the error.

      This was from the online edition of a news paper that in its paper edition always publish erratas when errors are brought to their attention.

  • by guttentag (313541) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @11:50AM (#3491380) Journal
    It's not just MSNBC and CNN. Slashdot favorite washingtonpost.com has been doing this for years.

    Here's How It Works

    Unless things have changed drastically since I worked there, there are half a dozen people in Arlington, VA right now who spend the majority of their day watching the wire services for updates, posting updated stories and sometimes adding information (in which case the byline is changed to something to the effect of "Compiled from staff and wire reports").

    Some stories may be updated five times or more in a single day, but many get stale before they can be updated so the Post stops linking to them. A classic case of a story that is constantly updated is the market summary. AP and Reuters run this story each morning and update it as things develop (updates include a new snapshot of the Dow and the Nasdaq, highlight any major announcements/reports that may have affected the tide of the markets, etc.) about once an hour, IIRC.

    If the Post expects people will be following a particular story throughout the day, the site will highlight the fact that it's been updated. Any time they update a story, they change the time stamp. If you're following a story, take note of the time stamp and you'll always know if you're looking at an updated version (I'm sure Slashdot readers would prefer a changelog, but newspapers aren't software development houses and they are very resistant to change).

    No Conspiracy Here

    There's no conspiracy here to change facts behind your back or cover up mistakes. It's about ensuring that you always have the most up-to-date information when you visit the site. Here's the deal:

    When The Washington Post is physically printed each morning, it's distributed to hundreds of thousands of locations. Some quickly find their way to recycling bins and trash cans, but others may sit in people's offices or homes for months. More importantly, libraries archive the papers and they are provided to the public indefinitely as reference material.

    The Web, OTOH, is a dynamic medium where few things have a long shelf life. Most content on washingtonpost.com is no longer linked to within 24 hours, and the actual HTML page disappears after two weeks unless it's designated as long-term content. The searchable archives consist of stories that have been printed in the physical paper, and if a change is made to a print edition article, it is noted with a correction.

    And now you know enough about the online news biz to get a part-time job updating the news digest. All that remains is some basic HTML knowledge and a tutorial about proprietary Web publishing systems (news judgment skills optional).

  • But it's slow, and months behind. Their web crawler makes a pass about once every two months, and the latest content shown is still from late 2001.
  • There was an article called "Why does the Associated Press change it's articles?" in _You_Are_Being_Lied_To_ from Disinfo press. The manipulation of articles after release has been occuring since before the first online media stand opened it's doors.

    A quote:

    On July 5, 2000, AP released two versions of an article about the European Parliament voting to expand its probe into Echelon, the US-based communications-eavesdropping network that monitors phone calls, faxes, and email worldwide. At 5:33 PM, the headline read, "European Parliament Votes for Wider Probe Into US Spying." The hammer must've come down awfully fast, because when the second version of the article was put on the wire at 6:14 PM, the headline had been softened considerably: "Europe Votes for Wider Probe of Alleged U.S. Spy Network." Ah, so now the spying is merely "alleged." And, more subtly, it's not even US "spying" anymore-it's just a "spy network." They may or may not be actively spying, but the network is there. Allegedly.


    In case you people haven't been paying attention, the readers of the newspapers and other media are not the customers. They are the product, and they are being sold to the advertisers. The advertisers themselves are the customers - they pay for the paper (what you pay doesn't cover the cost of the paper, much less provide any profit). And since the customer is always right, the press is happy to change it's articles for them, or even for the government.

    The common rebuttal to this is some kind of petulant namby-pamby whining about freedom of the press. The people who decide what goes in the press are high, high up in the heirarchy. You don't rise to those positions unless you've proven yourself to be the kind of slick manipulator whose first priority is keeping the advertisers, and whose second priority is luring in readers. Printing the truth or having any level of integrity is twenty-second priority, just after priority twenty-one, keeping a steady supply of cocaine, priority twenty, getting rid of subordinates who might get you in trouble, and priority ninteen, having a good retirement package.

Don't sweat it -- it's only ones and zeros. -- P. Skelly

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