Airbrushing Online Newspaper Articles After the Fact

I’ve seen this on more than a few occasions and find it very disturbing.

So, the Washington Post published a story on its website, revised the story to omit details that appeared in the relevant piece, and yet did not disclose these facts to the Post’s online readers. Isn’t this a problem? There may well have been valid reasons for revising the story. Perhaps an editor thought the story got relevant facts wrong or concluded reference to the embezzlement scandal was unfair. Whatever the reason for the change, the Post should have disclosed that changes were made and that it had decided to excise information included in the original story.

[From The Volokh Conspiracy » Blog Archive » Revising Web-based Newspaper Articles Without Informing Readers:]

It’s one thing to correct references or relevant facts but to materially change entire sections of an article is alarming and undermines the central argument that newspapers themselves make about why they are essential systems of record for society. The record of an event is only changing as the timeline plays out and new facts and arguments emerge, which may serve to invalidate previous reporting and in that case should be noted as new content, not airbrushing of already published content. At the very least a record of corrections should append each online story when necessary rather than flagrant material editing of content done “under the cover of darkness”.

Newspapers must recognize that the public trust they cherish is at risk whenever they rewrite an article that is already published online. This is no different than how the use of Photoshop has thrown into question the authenticity of online images, to which I cite a long history of image scandals that resulted from creative use of photo editing technology. I commented to my wife just over the weekend about the cover image on a fitness magazine she had, her comment back to me that “oh you can’t believe any cover on a magazine” revealed the extent to which pervasive mistrust of fashion and lifestyle media has taken hold. If newspapers wish to avoid the same condition they must revisit the policies and procedures by which they treat online content.

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Disaster at Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam

On August 17, 2009 a massive hydroelectric dam on the Yenisei River, near Sayanogorsk in Khakassia, Russia experienced a catastrophic failure in the turbine room, which destroyed the turbine and engine room and flooded the structure. Six days later, when the structure had been pumped out, 76 people were known dead.

The Sayano-Shushenskaya dam is one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world, the sixth largest in terms of output, and supplies 70% of the power used by United Company RUSAL, the largest aluminum producer in the world. The dam also produces 10% of the power used in Siberia, but it’s the loss of the smelters that is the main economic loss (500,000 tons of aluminum) not counting the estimated $300m required to rebuild the dam’s turbine room.

What is truly awesome about this accident is that the cause is presumed to water pressure surge in one of the turbines, also known as water hammer (this is the same thing that happens at home sometimes when you turn off a faucet and there is an audible bang in the pipes, that’s water hammer). In this case the water hammer was supersized and the force was strong enough to lift a 900 ton turbine off it’s base and destroy and entire concrete and steel turbine room structure.

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Hellman to invest $5 million in journalism nonprofit

yeah the “dwindling” coverage of the SF Ballet is a real bitch…

“We’ve lost a lot,” said Hellman, who specifically bemoaned dwindling reporting on subjects like the San Francisco Ballet, local business openings and vetting of political candidates. “We’re going to be meeting an unmet need.”

[From Hellman to invest $5 million in journalism nonprofit]

Cadillac Hearts GMAC

Cadillac, despite considerable progress on quality and performance issues (e.g. Cadzilla anyone?) has another major problem that is again entirely of it’s own making… they can’t compete with lease deals offered by other manufacturers.

Just 6% of Cadillac customers in August leased a vehicle as opposed to buying one, according to Edmunds.com. That compares to 32% of customers taking the lease option at the five import luxury brands that Cadillac competes with: Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Audi and Acura.

[From Lease Cutbacks Leave Cadillacs Idling - WSJ.com]

With the residual value of Cadillac so low the leasing companies can’t offer a low monthly payment without taking a bath on the backend of the lease. When GM and GMAC were one in the same it was easy for GM to bury that fact in order to remain competitive with leases, they can’t do that anymore and sales are drying up. I don’t like leases but if I were in the market for a lease I would probably look at Acura or Lexus, both of which have the best resale values which means the amount of depreciation you are financing is considerably less than any other manufacturer.

Cadillac can “get aggressive” all they want with lease deals but unless the underlying brand issues are resolved nothing material will change and GM will continue to buy customers.

Feedly Adds Topic Exploration

Feedly is one of my favorite services, not only does it offer a highly polished presentation layer that makes reading my subscriptions more pleasing but it has a nice set of social features for sharing content and with their latest release a really compelling set of search and topic exploration features.

If you have been reading my stuff over the last few years you will know that one of my big criticisms of existing feed readers and content services is that they are very good at presenting sources that you already know exist, very poor at finding the best content, not just the most popular, for any given category or topic.

Feedly has now moved into content discovery in a major way, leveraging their substantial installed base and ability to capture and analyze metadata related to content sources and individual posts. As much as I liked this service before, I love it now…

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A123 Systems ($AONE) Revisited

In August of last year I wrote about A123 Systems and their planned IPO, it’s out of the gate today and what a ride as the IPO was oversubscribed with the market cap right now approaching $1.8 billion and showing little signs of slowing down.

Energy storage is the most potent sector in cleantech because it doesn’t require wholesale infrastructure development and beyond transportation has a very broad range of applications that are currently not served by any existing technology, like storage for home and commercial solar installations.

I’ve been writing about the energy storage sector for over a year. I believe energy storage will be a fundamental enabling technology for cleantech, the sixth industrial revolution and a major investment theme for the next 20 to 30 years. I’ve written about an emerging consensus that sales in the energy storage sector will grow from $30 billion to well over $100 billion by 2020. I’ve also written about a variety of technologies and companies that will benefit from explosive growth in the sector.

- John Peterson, AltEnergy Stocks

Sidewiki, Everything Old is New Again

Google announced Sidewiki, an addon to Google Toolbar that allows any user to add notes to a webpage.

Google Sidewiki is a new feature being added today to the Google Toolbar that allows anyone to leave comments about pages as they surf the web. Love something you’re reading? Hate it? You can share your views with others who visit the page and who also have Sidewiki enabled. Share, that is, if Google thinks your comment is good enough.

[From Google Sidewiki Allows Anyone To Comment About Any Site]

Hmmm… remember when Third Voice tried this in 1999 and was roundly ripped for being the equivalent of website graffiti? What Third Voice was doing was, as far as I can tell, pretty much spot on for what Google announced today… yet not a word of that long gone company in any of the coverage this morning. Maybe Carol Bartz has a point

“I just want to transplant all you guys out of this sort of cynicism you’re in. I mean, why are you cynical about us [me: Yahoo]? Be cynical about frickin’ Google. Leave us alone.

The Newspaper Bailout

I don’t think anyone would deny that good journalism is both disciplined and increasingly not the domain of newspapers and broadcast media, but I find it interesting that the President would specifically latch on to the notion of a newspaper bailout by the Federal government as a potentially necessary step to combat the blogosphere.

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said.

[From Obama open to newspaper bailout bill - The Hill's Blog Briefing Room]

If one is going to use fact checking and story context as the criteria for determining good journalism, then the traditional print and broadcast media are culpable.

Let’s start with what brought down Dan Rather, the fake Bush national guard stories (which were of course exposed by a blog) and move on to the impressively expanding NY Times corrections page, which featured perhaps the most ironic mother of all corrections, the Walter Cronkite obituary, but I thought the Charlton Heston obituary was even more noteworthy because the NY Times managed to not only get a raft of meaningful details wrong but also Heston’s name and age.

The supposedly platinum standard for journalism, the NY Times, which is subject to a growing number of blogs that track their errors, and I don’t hear the President complaining about the most linked to content in the NYTimes, the op-ed pages which feature the chronically error filled Krugman and Dowd columns… all opinion, intensely partisan opinion.

I could also go on and on about how editors at major newspapers tweak headlines and selectively edit stories to give them the inappropriate or partisan context, something the President himself acknowledged but pointed to only in reference to blogs. Take,. for example, the SF Chronicle’s coverage of the Mayo Clinic’s statements on President Obama’s healthcare bill, which the Chronicle used one quote praising a change in the Medicare payment policy as a proxy for overarching endorsement of the President’s plans, completely omitting the first half of the statement that said the proposals “failed to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients, in fact it will do the opposite”.

When I emailed Ms. Lochhead about this she responded (promptly I should add) that “the dual Mayo references were thought to be confusing so the first was omitted. I agree this is misleading and I’m trying to get it fixed”. As of today that article has not been edited to reflect the entirety of the Mayo Clinic statement on the healthcare reform proposals.

In the final analysis I fail to see how the Federal government extending anything that could be construed as a bailout to newspaper companies could be considered appropriate or ethical. An independent media is certainly not ensured when the Federal government rescues media companies that are failing because of changes in consumer behavior and perhaps equally because of dismay and disgust at the partisan bias that newspapers and news magazines have displayed (I mean really, how many Time magazine covers featuring President Obama will they publish… I thought only Oprah Magazine could be counted on for such predictable covers?).

UPDATE: Today I learned that the Washington Post, the President’s hometown newspaper, ran 960 corrections in 2008 and still has a backlog of “hundreds, some dating to 2004″ in the queue… so much for the President’s claim that only the blogosphere lacks “serious fact checking”.

Redflex is at it Again…

This company has really gotten under my skin, but this latest action by Redflex and the city of Corona (CA) only serves to cement my dedication to covering every move they are attempting.

The city’s proposal would ignore the California statute authorizing red light camera ticketing, setting procedures and establishing the fines. In its place, the city would substitute its own administrative ticketing arrangement. Currently Corona only collects $133.80 out of each $446 ticket. Under the new plan, the first ticket would be lower but the city stands to collect a much greater amount from repeat violations.

[From California City Proposes to Evade California Red Light Camera Law | The Truth About Cars]

The problem here is that Corona is shredding the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to a trial by jury. By reclassifying a moving violation (a traffic offense governed by the vehicle code) to an administrative violation (governed by the appropriately named government code) Corona is doing something really nefarious. In order to appeal an administrative citation you have to admit guilt, pay the full fine, and then apply for a hearing in front of an administrative official, not a judge in a court. The city could simply deny all hearings for administrative violations or schedule them far out in advance knowing full well that they have your money, which you had to pay before you could appeal.

This is really really really bad on the part of Corona… if they acknowledge that approving the system without fully understanding the impact on their citizens was bad and the result has been “we are killing people with the fines” then simply abandon the traffic camera system altogether.

PS- Mayor Nolan featured in this story is no relation to me.

PPS- How the hell does the mayor explain voting for the program without understanding the costs and then calling his vote a mistake. I say “recall!”

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