Digital News Best Practice - Keep Calm and Cover Your Tracks?
It took over 2000 comments to convince The Observers’ editorial higher ups that a piece of commentary on trans activists was in reality a piece of hate speech. Which is super depressing for a news organization sistered with the Guardian that has published Juliet Jacques’ well written series on transitioning.
The piece, written by journalist Julie Burchill, was removed from the website today. Along with it went the many comments made by enraged and disappointed readers. Scottee, a very clever performer/broadcast/extrodinaire has a piece on what lead to Burchill’s response piece and also why it was largely bullshit. The Guardian also published a piece by Roz Kaveney criticizing Burchill’s pathologizing transphobic party piece and covered the withdrawal.
The Guardian’s decision to remove both the article and the comments section - which was surely painfully moderated over the 24 hours or so the piece was live - may recognize the problems with publishing the article but it sits a little uncomfortably with me.
The big question here is not with the Twitter fight, the comments under the articles - any of the articles - included in this discussion but the editorial process that led a liberal paper to getting it so wrong.
Confronting news issues and opinions that deal in the difficult conversations that some privileged people in publishing may not be well versed in more effort has to be made to provide the context and nuance news needs. At the very least, your editors should know what constitutes appropriate language for these conversations — seriously, someone okayed “chicks with dicks” when talking about trans activists? SO MANY PROBLEMS. Why not crowd source your style guide from the engaged and educated community you have built where none exists?
And when you create a community that spends as much time online and talking about the news as you have at the Guardian why would you delete the words and comments they had spent time creating to provide the discussion you demand? Especially when those comments help to inform and educate the editorial team’s decisions.
The need to correct your offensive misstep is understood. But pulling the article and leaving no trace on your site raises a lot of questions. The timeline of publishing to deletion has now been tracked by multiple other sites. The article has been cached. And you have stripped your readers of the immediate opportunity to correct your problem. And your communities ability to inform others why this article has been pulled. Give your staff a break and stop allowing comments after the first 2000, but don’t pretend that deletion is a way to deal with your problem.
Making Context as Easy to Find as Breaking News
If 2012 was the year everyone finally felt comfortable hiring social media editors to curate breaking news real time then 2013 should be the year everyone gets focused and moves onto real time context curation.
To borrow an analogy from my favourite comedian, a bad social media editor is like a flood of sewage coming unbidden into your home and following a bad social media editor on a breaking news issue is like constructing a sluice to let it in.
With real time, breakneck news coverage on social media earning its bumps through the Arab uprisings most organizations knew they had to be involved, but that’s all they knew and ultimately that has led to patchy coverage. Pointless updates bleeding out in the vague hope of contributing to a conversation. But the conversation is mainly missing — at it’s worst social media and the real time blog can start to look like a dump for ideas and opinions that add little to unpacking the world.
Give me a break belly achers, I know there are tonnes of examples of social media news being done well, but I’m not sure that’s really the rule yet.
Surprisingly, what we’re being told is a cutting edge technogical practice shares much with its dull sister 24 hour news channel. Repeat performances and speculation spin around In an attempt to prove something is happening. And while it’s lovely to have all this round the clock access is it worth anything?
I don’t need to hash over everyone’s most recent social news experience in the reporting of the multiple murders at Sandy Hook to point out what was missing. In the yawning gaps of real information or as you may know it “facts” online reporting sources failed to push the story passed the surface.
The internet is an archive, and if you’re a news organization you have no excuse to not take advantage of the one that you own. Very few newsworthy situations stand alone, there is historical context for everything from a massacre in a school to civil unrest in a country.
Every story has a beginning and news organizations can be involved in framing that story rather than sidestepping deep reporting in favour of trying to play the quickest hand. Video, audio and reporting archives can illustrate and bring more reason to the world than trolling Facebook pages for details that add to frenetic panic and accusations.
This is the start of a conversation, not the end of one.