Over and over this week, the news media got it wrong…
How much does erroneous reporting matter these days?
One answer: perhaps less than ever.
Although errors can travel faster than ever in a wired age, corrections and accurate information flow faster, too, says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism… The original sources soon corrected their mistakes.
“Information gets walked back very fast,” Jurkowitz says. “There is a self-correcting mechanism in journalism that’s quicker than it’s ever been.”
(Mistakes in news reporting happen, but do they matter? by Paul Farhi, The Washington Post)
My answer is, unequivocally, yes.
Mistakes and misinformation from major trusted news sources prevented me from retweeting or retransmitting any information during the Boston attacks. There are several layers to this, and one of the major factors in this scenario was that the incident (and therefore the news coverage) was ongoing. As soon as I lost confidence in the information I was being given, I was no longer willing to retransmit what I saw as no longer trustworthy. In that, sources lost no small amount of confidence from me, the consumer.
Being a geek, I saw the move from solid, thorough, verified work to “publish now, fix later” through the lens of a gamer. Back in the day, we played games that were what you got - whether it was in a cabinet, cartridge, or disk, you were stuck with what you got. The onus was on the developers and publishers to make sure that what you bought was a good product in and of itself without needing anything more. Testing and QA had to be tight.
Now? With the advent of internet-connected gaming consoles, developers can fall back on patches and promises. Testing is important, sure, but if some critical flaw or bug ships, no big deal - they’ll just release a patch. Classes are unbalanced? No problem - push a patch. Promised functionality is missing in the game you pre-ordered and received? Never fear, there’ll be a patch for it down the road.
I don’t like buying in based on patches and promises. This goes for journalism as much as it goes for games.
I want a product that is complete unto itself. If you can’t deliver me quality right now in exchange for my time, money, confidence, loyalty - then you’re telling me that you don’t value quality. You’re telling me that you want to do a half-assed job with promises of perfection down the road - you want to deliver journalism on credit.
Reporters are human, and humans make mistakes - I get that. Really. I make ‘em a lot, myself. I’m not talking about honest mistakes, I’m talking about laziness and negligence, whether they’re malicious or not. I’m talking about journalists who, in their frenzy to feed the news cycle and the immediacy of the internet-connected, always-consuming world, put factual reporting at a lower priority than getting the story out right away.
In my eyes, quality will always trump quantity. Quantity may grab my attention temporarily, but quality will win my loyalty and trust. So sure, you might grab a bit of revenue from hits with immediacy, but quality will get my enduring subscription payments.
And if you fuck up, for the love of God, apologize. Apologize sincerely, personally, and without reserve. Also: make enough honest mistakes (not just as a journalist - as an organization or institution) and you lose just as much credibility with me as negligence would. Doesn’t matter how many corrections, retractions, and apologies follow.
Don’t rely on patches and promises - deliver a product that stands on its own.