How News Sites Could Improve Accountability By Tracking Story Changes

By: Steve Myers |

Web publishing has spawned a parlor game for media reporters, partisan bloggers and others who closely follow the news: finding stuff that’s been deleted or changed on news sites and figuring out why. Points are awarded to the person who notices and cites exactly what was removed or changed. Bonus points for a screen shot.

The most recent game was played last month, when The New York Times removed a quotation by incoming Executive Editor Jill Abramson that said, in part, “In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion.” In noting the deletion, some bloggers speculated whether the Times was trying to hide something, presumably Abramson’s worship of false idols. The Times said the line was dropped for a fresher quote.

Although the deleted or changed material often isn’t important outside the world of meta-media, sometimes regular news consumers become unwilling losers in this game. A witness’ account in a developing news story disappears when it’s replaced by the version that appears in the next day’s paper. You remember a story saying one thing – and maybe you blogged about it – but now it says something else.

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