In this article Dainel Okrent, the public editor (readers’ representative) of The New York Times analyzes how the venerable newspaper could, for a long time, present flawed coverage of the alleged weapons of mass destruction Iraq was supposed to have in 2003. Importantly, Okrent emphasizes the role of the editors here (as opposed to the field journalists), and lists arguments such as the hunger for scoops and the “front-page syndrome.”
I find it ironic that the link originally was posted in a comment to an item by Andrew Keen, once again throwing (this time in support of yet another piece) some generalizing punches towards the internet, or rather its unreliability and uncertainty.
Social news sites might – once again, in certain conditions – plausibly offer a solution to some of the problems Okrent mentions. Even if a story is “buried on page B10”, it can get to the front page of a social news site, provided that it’s important. And comments offer an obvious place to offer critique about the articles in question. There is a factor which Okrent doesn’t mention, which is that editors might have to follow the agenda of the owners of the paper (cf. The New York Post endorsing Obama after, well, getting a hint by its owner Rupert Murdoch); editors of social news sites are – as a community – free of such obligations.
On the other hand, of course, the editors of social news sites have far more limited resources than their real-life counterparts, in e.g. checking and qualifying sources. And the community’s decision to put something on the front page or relegate it to the back rows might certainly be problematic – because of some general misunderstanding (fair enough: ignorance), because of the community’s hunger for scoop, or because a larger share of the community represents a heavily biased point of view. (And social news sites might not have so venerable and respected readers’ representatives as does the New York Times.)
…thinking of which lead me to the point that the role of “conventional” editors is quite different to that of “editors” of social news sites, and also that the notion of reliability might be understood differently on these two different types of websites.
(And this idea will lead nicely to the next article review.)