Friday, November 11, 2005
There was an interesting post the other day by the editor of Materials Recycling World, Paul Sanderson, regarding editorial integrity, from which I quote a small section:
"Over the last few years there has been a lot of debate in the media industry about editorial integrity. It used to be the case, and indeed it was how I was taught, that you should never admit to any mistakes you made.
But increasingly, many media organisations, with The Guardian at the forefront, are attempting to always put right any genuine mistakes that have been made through talking to those who have been affected and coming up with an agreement on how to do this. "
He sought some feedback, which I provided, and he has kindly published:
"It got me to thinking about a similar situation we found ourselves in. At some mysterious point it struck me that Junkk.com was a medium, with all THAT entailed. We are sent information, or we go off and find it ourselves, and then we put up there for folks to access.
I guess I'd somehow not thought of us as a 'media' organisation in the classic sense, and in any case we were free, plus a few other notions that all seem rather quaint now. But we do have an audience who trust us, and hence many obligations to them, many of which carry professional if not legal consequences. So I am very glad we created the site with the advice of the very best media/copyright lawyers you can get.
[Here I'd like to give a 'big up' to Alex & Alex at BRIFFA http://www.briffa.com, who helped us create the site to protect our public, our clients and ourselves in this over litigious world, and still keep us on the straight and narrow]
So even though we perhaps did not set out to be a 'news medium' or 'journalists' in the same way as did the publishers of MRW or yourself, there is not much difference in responsibility and accountability. Even in what we imagined (at first.... boy, were we wrong!) to be the fairly uncontroversial world we both inhabit.
Not everyone (and certainly not us) has your level of experience of hands-on editorial training. There may even be rules we don't know about (and ignorance of these may be no excuse... yadayada... but the murky world of online at least presents us with certain precedents to carry on). But there are certain things that just seem worth adhering to in my very simplistic t'pennyworth feedback. These would be:
1) Tell the truth
2) If necessary, and it probably almost always is, put it in the context you learned it and now share it
3) Be prepared to accept it may turn out to be inaccurate and have in place procedures to prevent, and continually check for this happening; and cope quickly if it does
4) Better yet, make sure everyone knows that you are so prepared (which forms part of 2)
5) If you are party to something incorrect, put it right, preferably with a 'weight' in excess of the initial story that needs to be rectified (I consider BBC's Newswatch to be a poor example of this latter, with a Sat morning mea culpa slot to deal with primetime howlers).
For us, other than the odd opinion piece where I may make someone grumpy with a twitching eyebrow, I don't think we're going to venture too far into controversial territory. But by placing or acting as a conduit for 3rd party materials we're given, we are of course in danger, if in good faith, in sharing information that may not be correct.
I hope it is enough, but somewhere we cheerfully try and explain this in our own way by saying 'If we know, we'll tell you. If we don't we'll say so, and then try to find someone who does.' But what if that person is wrong? I guess we have to fall back on number 5, and our metaphorical swords, too. We certainly are putting more opportunities to provide corrections at source all around the site.
So as a 'reader' of 'news' for a few decades, I am appalled to only now learn that it was taught in journalism never to admit to mistakes, and only recently that any effort was being given to actually putting things right should you do so. So good on you guys for having that as policy.
I wouldn't expect it any other way. Honestly."
I should stress, if it is not clear enough by my reply, that Paul and MRW are obviously very committed to a policy that I, and I would hope all right thinking folk (notice I didn't pop an 'other in there), would applaud.
But who'd have thunk? I'm still coping with his revelations about mainstream media, who really do have the power to influence our way of lives seriously. But it is also an eye-opener that such considerations are troubling editorial departments in the more niche media areas such as recycling. But then, this is all getting pretty serious. Not just the millions of pounds being 'used' in our (tax and ratepayers') names, with little or no real appreciation of how or why by the general public, but also the very real consequences such decisions and expenditures are going to have on our futures.
One final thought. Errors of inaccuracy are one thing. Errors of omission can be equally, if not more troubling. That is where trust in your medium really comes to into play. Will you be told something that may not fit the publisher's own personal agenda or commercial interests? Wooooo. Scareeeee.