Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ethical Issues Raised by Electronic Media - AK Press Club Breakout Session Today

I've proposed a breakout session at the Alaska Press Club conference today.

These are issues I've been thinking about, but then I got a 2011 Anchorage Daily News article the other day and it came up like this:

According to the internet, this article was an Alaska Dispatch News article, not an Anchorage Daily News article.   The Dispatch didn't buy the News until 2014.  Does that matter?  Most people outside of Anchorage wouldn't know, and would credit this article to the Dispatch.  That may not be a big thing, but it's a symbol of my concerns - the ability to change history online.  

Someone interested in newspapers themselves, who didn't know about Alaska would think the Dispatch was Anchorage's newspaper since forever.  

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  With hard copy newspapers in the library or on microfiche, you see the original published version.   With electronic online publications,  that published version no longer exists.  Anyone with access, can change what the newspaper said.

Editing published work

"All entries must be submitted as they were published or broadcast."
But everyone changes their online versions.  Typos get corrected.  Updates get added.  I had two readers this week alert me to spelling errors, which I then fixed.  And when events change, it makes sense to alert readers of an old post of that change.  Either to add information or link to a newer post that has that information.

My own blog rule has been:
1.  For typos and minor stylistic rewording, I just change it without any notice.
2.  For changes that might change the meaning, I strikeout the old and [bracket the new] and I'll mark the date it was updated. 
This seems to be a reasonable approach.  It cleans up sloppy writing that slips here where I don't have an editor, but it prevents me from changing the story in ways that might hide my mistakes or make it look I was prescient.

Blogger also has another feature that's handy, but raises issues.  It lets bloggers change the publication time.  That's useful for scheduling a post.  There have been times, for example, when Feedburner doesn't relay my post and I've gone back and reposted it at about the same time as the original post to wake Feedburner up.  But someone could just as easily backdate predictions about an election or a sports event or anything.

Changing The Records of History
My biggest concern is the ability to change what was written and to backdate.  What if someone gets into the newspaper files and changes history?  It shouldn't be that hard to do.  Most libraries have stopped storing paper copies of newspapers and journals.   Web caching is our only back up, but it's not clear to me that this is a foolproof way to stop or catch online document tampering.

So, these are the kinds of things I'm proposed for a breakout session at 11:45am today at the Alaska Press Club.  There's a bulletin board to see the exact room.  (In fact I will probably tamper, after the the original post, with this post to add the room number later this morning.)

[UPDATE June 12:  Here's the follow up post done well after the conference ended.  It covers the issues that we discussed.  More than I thought of on my own.]

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