Canucks and Beyond

Standards for Online Journalism - Sean Avery and The NY Daily News

04/30/2008 at 3:57pm EDT

The reports on Sean Avery’s medical condition this morning started off at a furious pace with words the NY Daily News (reporters John Dellapina and Larry McShane) had to have known would incite a frenzy:

Rangers bad boy Sean Avery, unconscious and not breathing, was rushed to a Manhattan hospital Wednesday morning in cardiac arrest just hours after his team’s playoff loss, sources said.

By 12:30pm Eastern Time, the NY Rangers issued a statement denying these facts, and confirming rumors that were already circulating: that Avery was in fact suffering from a lacerated spleen. A serious condition, but one that did not involve anything as extreme as Avery not breathing for any period of time.

By early afternoon, David Shoalts at the Globe & Mail was quoting a NYR spokesman who stated that “[Avery] walked into the hospital and was not on a stretcher.” And Steve Simmons at the Toronto Sun spoke with Avery’s agent, Pat Morris, who says the condition was never life-threatening.

Almost certainly, this was an entirely innocent mistake by the Daily News, but a profitable one for their website, and they’ve not handled the situation very well in general.

Every hockey news source there is has pointed to their report today, an absolute slam of inbound links for the newspaper. But rather than correct their story and take responsibility for the error from their “source” (assuming it was the source’s error) they just changed the whole story online, with nary a word about their original report.

David Singer at HockeyFights.com was good enough to capture a screenshot of the original story, with the trigger words of “cardiac arrest” and “not breathing.” But as Singer comments, it doesn’t end there:

The NY Daily News post about Avery is all sorts of different now. There are subtractions, additions, and not one mention of an edit. I understand a story like this breaks, and everyone can’t nitpick all the facts as there’s a race to report, but the original sourced story around the web right now is from the News and it looks like we’ve all quoted phantom material. The timestamp is different, that’s about it.

New version is here.

The NY Daily News is not the only mainstream media source guilty of doing this. Given the number of sources that Kukla’s Korner tracks for stories we post in our newsfeed, we see this happen a lot. Perhaps it’s because the MSM isn’t entirely aware of how this internet business works, so here’s a free lesson:

  • When you post a story, put the original post time on accurately
  • When you change a story, note the time of the updates.
  • And when you make such changes, always always ALWAYS note down somewhere the alterations between your original posting and the current version

The msm is frequently concerned (and with good cause) at the sleeze factor of the blogosphere. I can empathize with their point but I’m not sure they realize how sleezy their own behavior is in this respect.

Sometimes I think it’s just a matter of them not understanding the nature of online news accountability very well—it’s different than conventional newspaper reporting. As Singer says:

It’s alright to post edits and updates, it doesn’t make your organization look weak, it makes you look like you’re continuously reporting, and certainly helps your readers understand what’s correct.

It’s become such a serious issue that affects the credibility of anyone citing a report, I’ve taken to making screenshots of the reports we’re quoting on KK, because we can’t trust they won’t be changed at any moment.

The errors in the Avery story could have happened to anyone in the news world, no doubt; I’d just like to see mainstream media hold themselves to higher standards when it comes to online story alterations.

Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be hard rules for accountability.

Update 11:22am PT Eric McErlain at AOL Fanhouse also addresses the matters facing NY Daily News today, and their errors in this situation.
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*minor grammar changes made at 11:02pm PT

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