Sniffing out edits
We’ve been looking recently at a site called News Sniffer. Its stated aim is "to monitor corporate news organisations to uncover bias" and it does this by tracking changes to stories on this website and the others it monitors. It also looks for the "censoring" of comments to our Have Your Say pages.
Having looked at various stories treated in this way, what it mostly reveals is the minute-to-minute editorial processes of 24-hour online news, where stories are written, published, then updated and added to for as long as details continue to emerge. It also shows some of the workings of the writing and sub-editing process in which stories are subbed for length as new quotes are added in, paragraphs are rephrased to accommodate new material, and pictures, links and background are added.
It also, of course, shows up corrections. Our policy is to correct anything that’s wrong - spelling mistake, factual error or anything else - as soon as we become aware of it. News Sniffer highlights even the smallest of these changes in a way we don’t. Should we do something similar?
When we make a major change or revision to a story we republish it with a new timestamp, indicating it’s a new version of the story. If there’s been a change to a key point in the story we will often point this out in the later version (saying something like "earlier reports had said...").
But lesser changes - including minor factual errors, corrected spellings and reworded paragraphs - go through with no new timestamp because in substance the story has not actually progressed any further. This has led to accusations we are "stealth editing" - a sinister-sounding term that implies we are actively trying to hide what we are doing. We’re not. It’s just that continually updating the timestamp risks making it meaningless, and pages of notes about when and where minor revisions are made do not make for a riveting read - as News Sniffer, I would argue, tends to prove.
We are concentrating on providing the fullest, most accurate and most timely account we can and there’s a risk that adding a lot of detail about the process will get in the way of telling the story - affecting clarity for the reader and the speed of the journalists.
But if sites like this can help show more of the journalistic process and make it more transparent that is no bad thing.
I haven’t said anything about the tracking of the Have Your Say pages on News Sniffer because, at the moment, we think their tracking is not working properly and is highlighting comments as “censored” which are, in fact, published and live on the Have your Say pages. We are in touch with the architect of News Sniffer to see whether and how this can be fixed.