elimination of error

Richard Posner writes:

Inaccuracies in blogs are less pernicious than inaccuracies in the mainstream media even apart from the superior opportunity for prompt correction of bloggers’ errors. The reason is that bloggers are known not to employ fact checkers or editors; there is no pretense that they have the resources to eliminate all errors in their postings. The mainstream media, in contrast, represent to their public that they endeavor assiduously to prevent errors from finding their way into articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to repose trust in them. Bloggers do not. That is why serious errors by the mainstream media are played as scandals; they are not merely mistakes–they are breaches of trust.

[via Instapundit ...also discussed here]

I’m sorry, but yikes, this is just ridiculous. I mean: we make errors. We admit that we make errors. There’s no pretense here that we have the resources to eliminate every error. Anyone who expects to find an Encyclopedia Britannica level of accuracy from daily journalism is going to be sorely disappointed.

(And as I’ve written before, we need follow the lead of bloggers and be more innovative about using the flexibility of the Web to quickly correct errors).

One point I want to make very strongly: reporters in daily journalism don’t have fact-checkers either. We’re responsible, individually, for making sure our facts are correct. I would never pass off an error by saying, oh, an editor should have caught it. Frankly, that would be the height of irresponsibility. Writers have to be responsible for their own words.

Editors do help with certain things. They help reporters produce snappier prose, guard against typos and grammatical errors, and sometimes prevent bias and unfairness. But they don’t do a lot of fact-checking. (Typically they might compare my story to the wire version, if there is one. And if something sounds wrong, they’d ask me about it).

Continuing, Posner writes that the mainstream press asks the public “to repose trust in them. Bloggers do not.” This is a sweeping generalization from someone who’s just been blogging for six months. And if people don’t trust Powerline, or TalkLeft, or what have you … why are they reading them?

There are bloggers out there who I think try very hard to be credible and responsible, who check their sources and seem to me to be equally reliable as at least some newspapers in the mainstream press.

And then there are those who make no such attempt … who don’t check their sources, who don’t even read carefully what they’re linking to. It’s asinine to suggest that these guys get some kind of free pass because they don’t have editors.

If they’re too busy to check their facts, they shouldn’t be blogging — or at least need to put some disclaimer on their site: “None of this may be true.”

Judge Posner does a lot of careful bloggers a disservice with his comments.

6 comments to elimination of error

  • nancy

    I think you are forgetting that newspapers, magazines, TV shows are actually professional products while blogs are to most extent amateur endeavours. Therefore, when big media makes serious mistakes (like Newsweek for example) they are actually causing their customers a serious harm. Maybe as blogs become more mainstream and more popular they will look and feel like professional products and with that they will be subjected to the same responsibility and expectations as the mainstream media.
    Ashish

  • nancy

    ‘If they’re too busy to check their facts, they shouldn’t be blogging — or at least need to put some disclaimer on their site: “None of this may be true.”’

    Hmmm… I could explain to you why this is ridiculous, but since you wrote it, you probably wouldn’t understand. My 8-year old cousin blogs. But she is not a credentialed journalist. I believe she should be blogging. But not reporting for the New York Times. You fill in the blanks.

  • Ashish, I dunno. There’s plenty of fairly professional blogs out there — I’m thinking the Gawker media sites, sites like Volokh, Kausfiles and Juan Cole … they don’t seem all that amateur to me at all.

    And a number of blogs get way more traffic and readers than the small mainstream newspapers I started my career working for.

    You guys just want the power to criticize, but not be criticized in turn, I think. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. If you wanna play the game, you gotta play by the rules…

    As for Newsweek, that was just ridiculous, the way they got blamed for that. As I noted at the time, Newsweek didn’t force anyone to riot or ransack aid offices.

    And blogs are already having a profound influence on politics and people’s careers … just ask Eason Jordan and Mary Mapes. They’ve cost people their jobs — and I’m not saying it wasn’t justified in those cases … but suppose the next time bloggers “swarm” over someone, cause them to lose their job — and it later turns out the bloggers were irresponsible with the facts? “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just an amateur venture.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s fucking ridiculous. You’re responsible for what you write, amateur or professional.

    As for the 11:13 commenter — well, there’s an obvious difference between personal blogs and blogs that try to comment on politics and world affairs. If your cousin is attempting the latter, there are certain duties involved, regardless of her age. And even personal blogs have a responsibility to be honest.

    And let’s be clear: “credentialed journalist” is a complete oxymoron, at least in the United States. You don’t need credentials to be a journalist … just a willingness to go out there and report the truth.

  • nancy

    See my post for a response.

  • nancy

    I am the commenter to whom Richard Posner has responded on his site. Contrary to Posner’s assertion that “We ‘enable’ (as the blogging expression has it) all comments; we engage in no censorship,” I am now blocked from posting to becker-posner-blog.com. But because Posner publicly made a personal response to me, here is my reply would have been were I not now permenantly censored from civilly posting on his public blog.

    Judge Posner:

    According to you, “The comment takes Becker and me to task for not responding to all the comments (on our postings) that are criticial of us. By thus not responding, we are said by the commenter to be shutting off debate.”

    For a man of your intelligence, this must be purposely inaccurate.

    First, you conflated two distinct arguments I made. One is that sometimes when you reply to reader postings you ignore comments that you find irrelevant (i.e., you do not correct the reader). Another is that you did not reply to “The Sexual Revolution” postings at all (rendering impossible correction of reader errors). If your theory is that blogs correct erroneous impressions more often and more quickly than newspapers, it seems odd that there are specific instances on your own blog disproving this theory. Neither of these two arguments has anything to do with reader/poster criticism of you. They deal only with webmaster failure to correct errors.

    Second, I neither said that you nor Becker stifled your critics. I stated that you shut down a debate on “The Sexual Revolution.” That is true. Anonymous commenters were blocked from contributing to that topic once the quantity of anonymous malicious comments became overwhelming. The “debate” that was shut down was between Poster A to the site and Poster B to the site — not between Posner and the Posters.

    Third, I never suggested that you should respond to all of the comments on your site. By contrast, I suggested that you should have responded to at least one comment regarding “The Sexual Revolution” post. There was no reply to ANY of the comments, unlike every other topic that is archived on your blog.

    Fourth, you also ignore the other side of your claims. Despite noting that bloggers have a “superior opportunity” for correction of errors, you fail to discuss the fact that bloggers are often in the business of partisan advocacy. Many of the errors and omissions are not in fact true errors, but attempts to spread disinformation, misinformation, and libel. While it is true that bloggers do not claim to be a professional class — as journalists do — bloggers do in many cases claim to have superior access to specialized knowledge and less corporatist bias. That is an explicit claim of trustworthiness also.

    Fifth, your statement that “There is nothing to prevent the commenter fronm [sic] creating his own “anti-Becker-Posner” blog devoted to correcting our mistakes and omissions!” seems rather beside the point. Why would you, a self-termed “public intellectual” alongside a Nobel-prize winner, start a blog unless you sought freely to discuss ideas? Why would you insist that a dissenter exit the Becker-Posner community rather than remain and exercise voice? This attack is rather like telling an antiwar protester to pack his bags and flee to Canada. Besides, setting up an anti-Becker-Posner site would be disrespectful; intellectually challenging a public intellectual one respects in a public forum, I had thought, is quite certainly not.

  • nancy

    I learned in Graduate school that 3% of everything we do during the course of the day is an error.

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