TR Member Perks!

The world is still adjusting to the idea of instant news on the Internet and the ability to easily change and rewrite history in many ways. The Internet has, for better or worse, completely changed the way reporting can be done with a very simple tool: the ability to update pieces after launch. This has many upsides as it means new information can be added to easily augment or complete stories to provide more information to readers and keeping pieces timely. However, there is a hefty potential downside, where sites can cover up and completely rewrite stories without any informing, correcting major errors without comment or just flat out change the story they’re covering.

The New York Times is most recently guilty of this as a NewsDiff’s comparison of their story on Ellen Pao’s resignation shows. The original story was written by Mike Isaac who titled it “Ellen Pao Is Stepping Down as Reddit’s Chief” and presented a relatively neutral and information driven piece on the situation as a business technologies writer. That story, though, is not what you’d find if you went to the New York Times now, because nearly all of it was rewritten by David Streitfeld with reporting by Vindu Goel in San Francisco and published on the front page. It is titled “It’s Silicon Valley 2, Ellen Pao 0: Fighter of Sexism Is Out at Reddit” and is much more of an opinion heavy piece compared to the previous one.

The differences are astounding, as anyone who viewed the original article would return and find it replaced with a wholly other story dealing primarily with sexism around Reddit and how Ellen Pao was a “hero to many.” While the original article included the sentence “Many Reddit users blamed Ms. Pao directly in the hours after Ms. Taylor’s firing, flooding Reddit’s forums with vitriolic messages — often racist and misogynistic — calling for Ms. Pao’s ouster” it was the only instance of citing sexism or misogyny in the original article, as, particularly recently, users’ comments towards Pao were generally unkind. The story also originally had a small mention of her previous and ongoing court room drama regarding gender discrimination that was significantly increased in the rewrite, putting in almost a small other article on the state of that trial there.

The issue here in many ways has to deal with the fact that David Streitfeld’s updated story has almost nothing in common with Mike Isaac’s original story. Only 87 words carried over to the new version, and while allowing for a few more in just format changes, that is an incredibly small amount of the 477 words that were in the original article. The tone, the angle, the presentation, and what the article was attempting to accomplish are vastly different things that merit a separate piece instead of a complete rewrite.

Not that the New York Times is alone in this issue of abusing rewrites, though. Earlier this year the Associated Press caused a major uproar when they reported Hilary Clinton was running a homebrew email server from her home. This story was updated numerous times throughout the day with archive sites not catching all of it, though ZDNet has a very good run down of the situation with screenshots of the original. By the end of the day the story was about the Benghazi email probe instead of the original story about running a homebrew email that was essentially disproven once people looked into it. Said story created the immortal Eric Hoteham as a sockpuppet instead of what it actually was, a typo on Clinton staffer Eric Hothem’s name.

It was all on the same URL, and the same supposed story, but like the New York Times, the final product bore little resemblance to what was originally there and never informed people of that. By the time they’d changed it, the damage was done and it was reported throughout the net and the Associated Press has never, to my knowledge, formally acknowledged the issues with its original reports.

This is a challenge that journalism faces today—how to fairly update and keep stories current while informing readers as best we can. The Internet has a lot of tools that can be used to drastically improve journalism, with unparalleled communication speed, research ability, reach, and the ability to make sure stories have the latest and best information. However, like many tools, it can be misused and it appears in these cases by the lack of any notification of what was changed, or why, that there’s still a lot for the industry to learn as it struggles to transform itself from a print based medium to an online resource.

What are your thoughts on Internet journalism? How do you think the field needs to evolve? Do you think this type of rewriting without notification is dishonest? Share your thoughts below!

Don Parsons

News Editor

I've been a gamer for years of various types starting with the Sega Genesis and Shining Force when I was young. If I'm not playing video games, I'm often roleplaying, reading, writing, or pondering things brought up by speculative fiction.

  • Azure

    Mass boycott they need to suffer now pulling that bullshit.

    contact advertisement and show that this group is spreading propaganda and lies with the archives.

  • ArsCortica

    Imho, this does not so much show the dangers of internet journalism (of which there are plenty, mind you), but rather the dangers of a news platform trying to push a sociopolitical narrative, something of which the NYT has been guilty from on more than one occasion

    It becomes especially absurd when the usual suspects cry about soggy knees when the revolt started because a popular female employee of Reddit was fired without any sort of warning.

  • m0r1arty

    Journalism has stopped being about news and more about getting clicks.

    Citable citizen journalism seems to be the future.

  • Übermensch

    Not really sure a boycott of NYT by Redditors, GGers and other such people would even dent their sales or views. It would be kind of like the Celiac Association boycotting bread.

  • Screech Screecher

    That is because most have already left them. The papers influence has been diminished substantially and I really see it relegated to another regional paper within 10 years.
    WSJ has replaced the NYT as the paper of record for the nation at this point, though even that title doesn’t mean what it once did.

  • mrwizeass

    In the case of the NYT, perhaps it’s time for the old media giants to go the way of the dinosaurs.

  • They could have written the article as an opinion piece after the fact, that’s what’s terrible. Instead some folks go ahead and change the article. Maybe there just has to be strict rules to how news is delivered online from verified news outlets. Anyone know if there was any comment from Mike Issac about the change?

  • Übermensch

    Now, I’m not American, so correct me if I’m wrong, but NYT is basically the US equivalent of The Guardian, right? And you can have more than one national, anyway. This country has at least five.

    Also, hoping NYT goes back to being a national is like hoping The Guardian will become all about Manchester again, it’s rather genie-and-bottle.

  • rocketman120

    Newspaper of record =/= national paper. Newspaper of record means it can be cited academically, and has been authorized by the government to publish legal notices.

  • Screech Screecher

    Correct, though I am using the reference more as the standard of journalistic excellence not so much as an archival record.

  • It’s all about the money. Sites will do anything to drive traffic and increase monetization.

  • Fenrir007

    GG is too tech savvy. I bet most of us dont buy physical newspapers, and I’d wager most get their news from news aggregators instead of going to specific newspaper websites. To top it off, GG is too international, so its also likely that people in GG will look at their local newspapers for their news.

  • wcg

    Despite the spin, it could be that Redditors didn’t like Pao or the direction the site is going. Perhaps all those signees of the petition were mouth breathing misogynists or maybe just a regular cross section of people. Regardless of how NYT or Gawker media paints it, Reddit’s user base is Reddit, not the server infrastructure the brick and mortar company provides. They (Reddit, management and board) do well to remember that.

  • wcg

    I think they have already. They (NYT, and other physical newspapers online) are desperately trying to compete with the likes of Gawker who don’t need to hire journalists and don’t need some old fashioned printing press. In so doing, they’ve have resorted to the almighty click as their metric for success.

  • Jim Smith

    I’m not sure that updating a story over time qualifies as underhand or abusive. Newspapers updated stories between issues in the dead tree era as more information became available, or as the newspaper evolved its line, and that practice has carried over to the Internet era.

    Mike Isaacs’ story was posted at 5:23 EST, which is about 20 minutes after the announcement from Reddit, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s a bare statement of facts. And equally hardly surprising that the famously liberal NYT wanted to make a point about sexism. You’ll note also that the subsequent revision, after the one you draw attention to, tones down some of the claims made in Streitfeld’s version.

  • fernendo

    This is what happens when narrative becomes more important than facts. It’s always the same sites; they seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that most criticism of Ellen Pao came after the firing of another woman who had been instrumental in facilitating the one great thing Reddit is known for — AMA’s. They also ignored the fact that Pao has a long history of backstabbing other women, and her incompetence at her last job was well documented.

    It doesn’t even matter that under Pao’s reign, Reddit stagnated in new users, while its main competition took off to the point that they had to upgrade to better servers, and even managed to get venture capitalist support. Even that has been woven into the narrative with websites like The Verge caliming that Voat is for trolls, and even going as far as far as implying criminal activity is going on at Voat.

  • fernendo

    It’s not so much that they updated the story as they complete replaced an informative story with an opinion piece.

  • R.J.

    Sorry, but willingness to excuse damaging biases (media “making a point”) is probably largely why the media has become so unreliable. The audience didn’t fight for accuracy, or “truth”, they just wanted validation of their world views. Media, left-wing AND right-wing, understood this – and the result is a fucking mess.

  • Unbeliever

    Journalists – “Facts! What’s that?”

  • swagv

    That’s largely because humans are fat, lazy, and lethargic. Facts are boring, so we like stories with conflict and drama — it’s what captures our interest and attention.
    I blame the readers more than the publishers for rewarding this behavior with traffic, shares, comments, etc. We reward that behavior with cold, hard cash by proxy.

  • someonewhoknows

    gawker? really?

  • KrakenFartz

    They have already gone the way of the dinosaurs. By evolving into turkeys.

  • There is actually a simple technological solution to this problem: GITHUB (or some similar web-based source code management tool).

    If news organisations were using SCM as a repository for intellectual content like news reports, features, and opinion pieces, it would be a simple matter to build a visual tool that allowed readers to “rewind” the editing and revision process. And, and even EASIER matter, to provide alerts and push updates when those revisions are “pushed” to the repository.

  • Maniate

    The problem there is there are few ‘citizen’s’ one would actually wish to cite. Straight news stories are easy as fuck to write but if you take the gaming press as an example, very few of them can demonstrably write them correctly. It ain’t hard at all, you need two good sources to attribute anything you’re publishing as news, the story has to be newsworthy and you get the who, what, where, when and why,. That’s all you need but amateurs fail at that all over the place.

  • Misogynerd

    This is what i like about sites like (Just releases videos and press releases) and people like Sargon of Akkad (One person doing it because they like it, not because it’s their job). Hell even Reddit/chans are better news sources as long as you don’t read the comments.

  • Would have made more sense if the biased piece had been replaced by the more objective one.

  • mrwizeass

    That doesn’t mean they also had to adapt Gawker’s sleazy, yellow journalism tactics as well. Hopefully, this impending lawsuit from Hulk Hogan will teach the rest of the press what happens when they do.

  • Gooniesmurf

    …and other physical newspapers like The Guardian. The amount of bait articles listed on their site, one as to wonder if it is accurate to now refer to them as news outlets.

  • the7k

    So, apparently you can be a misogynist for getting upset that a woman was fired.

    What a time to be alive.

  • marco

    The internet just amplifies the basic realities of human society, it’s profoundly naive to think the world was any different before reddit/internet, or the printing press, or parchment, or stone tablets, or painted caves, or clubbing things to pulp to prove a point or feed your family. We’ve been the same fucking organism for 500k years.

  • Cred

    “It’s Silicon Valley 2, Ellen Pao 0: Fighter of Sexism Is Out at Reddit”

    This is a good contender for most shameless, pathetic, misinforming, blatant, manipulative and exploitative clickbait title of the year.

    So I take it the The New York Times has no standards anymore?

    It’s like 99% of the news sites out there lately are garbage. My guess is that right now all the sites are rushing to adopt the clickbait strategy, but that will lead to eventually everyone getting fed up of it and no longer accepting it.
    It’s going to take some years of nonstop clickbait for that though but once it happens people will gravitate towards sites where they treat their readers with dignity and give them proper news and the bar will be raised once again.

  • RoboticSpaceShark

    “By the end of the day the story was about the Benghazi email probe instead of the original story about running a homebrew email that was essentially disproven once people looked into it. Said story created the immortal Eric Hoteham as a sockpuppet instead of what it actually was, a typo on Clinton staffer Eric Hothem’s name.”

    What about the Clinton private email server story was “essentially disproven”? It seems very clear she was running a private email, which was the big scoop.

    The way this is phrased also seems to blame the AP for misspelling Eric Hothem’s name, but they only reported it that way because his name was misspelled on documentation for the server. You can’t blame the AP for reporting the truth of the record.

  • It basically became the same as the 24/7 cycle. The corruption eventually becomes a necessity for poorly-run/financed sites that rely on outsiders, as they not only need the clicks, but they ALSO need to fill the ‘void,’ to keep almost-every-hour fresh updates and RSS streams. They need filler, they need grabby-content, they need clickbait not just for the bucks but to keep the frontpage looking active, even if it just winds up being bundles of worthless listicles or opinion pieces.

  • If you don’t pay anybody a dime but make $470 million, you uh, you make quite a good little profit.

  • NYT’s had a number of fabrication and hoax scandals. They basically don’t even NEED an editor, they just post whatever lands on their desks without checking it.

    Also note that in the link to his blog, he also pulled one over on Washington Post and Boston Globe too, who BLATANTLY JUST PLAIN COPYPASTED the original article. More of the usual suspects. Though, it was cable that really started this change. Print news struggled to keep up with the endless cycle, even though maybe 22 of the 24 hours of the full-time cable news cycle was either useless or endlessly repetitive.
    so yeah, NYT has been discredited for some time now, it’s likely that it survives just on classified ads and fashion spreads, which people keep paying for because it already had a large distribution built up over a couple decades. If they ever make even a single mistake on their ads or political favouring, they’re toast.

  • times like this I really wish Disqus tracked downvotes.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    While I don’t agree with the final message. I don’t see a big problem, they just changed their mind with how they wanted to cover the story. I don’t think they were trying to be deceptive, I think they just decided that a more sensationalist story was more competitive with other publications and was going to get more views.

    At the end of the day, no matter what people say, time and time again they will click on a sensational story as opposed to a neutral one. Without changing the whole payment scheme for the entire internet, I can’t really blame publications for being at least a little sensational. It’s what interests people, and until people quit clicking on divisive and sensational links. I think in the end, consumers are to blame for the content they receive. Ethics don’t pay the bills, clicks do.

  • deeteecee

    meh, nothing changes. there’s righteous journalism out there and there’s the reader-grabbing ones.

  • Thanako

    While your points are valid, I have to disagree. These people are well aware that the “gamer” group vastly outnumbers the “SJW” group. This was done because the original article probably wasn’t getting the most views, compared to other sites that spin the narrative. Even this brings attention to it.

    That, ultimately, is the goal. (Isn’t money always the goal?) The whole idea is to provoke a reaction, which results in views, people talking about their brand, and more views. Archive links and the like do exist, but even though there are a lot more people using them, and AdBlock, yet this strategy still works.

    It ultimately comes down to people who genuinely care, versus people who only care about the cheque at the end of the week. Glad to see the people here DO care and ARE above this. Props to you guys.

  • Morocco Mole

    Well, it’s been decades since the Fifth Column started clothing itself as the Fourth Estate. Need some non-conspiratorial examples? Stephanopoulos; JounOlist; MSNBC and Fox; NYT; Trayvon oversatuation; war on women; poly sci grads working in journalism as the employer of last resort; blogs being accepted as journalism despite their refusal to embrace best practices…. Need more? Once you accept that whining about it does nothing, and that you can’t debate it because these people are the ubiquitous gatekeepers of the narrative, the sooner you will simply refuse to accept the bogus premises and deal with it.

  • HouseOfBrick

    I think it is completely fine for a news source to update their articles but if they are adding/changing anything other than grammar then they must provide a link to the raw text of the original document along with any links provided with aforementioned old news story

  • Also Known As

    I sent an email in complaint about the article to the editor of NY Times. I suggest others follow suit. I think the great thing about GamerGate is that it can potentially open the eyes to corruption in ALL media, not just games journalism.

    Anyway if people want to write to the NYT editor about this they can do so (politely and courteously, of course) by emailing them at letters at nytimes dot com.

  • Also Known As

    If anyone is curious, here is the email I sent to The New York Times in response to their shoddy “reporting”:

    “To Whom it May Concern:

    I’m extremely disappointed with Mike Isaac and David Streitfeld’s article It’s Silicon Valley 2, Ellen Pao 0. What Messrs. Isaac and Streitfeld don’t grasp is that these days it’s very difficult to fool the internet. Newsdiffs, a website dedicated to “tracking changes in online articles over time”, has produced an image juxtaposing the original article–titled Ellen Pao Is Stepping Down as Reddit’s Chief–with the revised version, and what the comparison highlights is troubling.

    The extensive revisions made to the article haven’t been noted as of this writing, but what’s far more troubling is the authors’ attempt to spin a narrative that Ms. Pao was ousted due to misogynist and racist attitudes, despite ample evidence that that is not the case.

    I’ve no doubt Ms. Pao received hateful vitriol from the scum of the internet, but the vast majority of criticism I’ve read has centered around her incompetence, and two employees of Reddit even penned an editorial in The Times detailing their fears for the site’s future under her leadership. The “misogyny” narrative is even more questionable when one considers that the straw that broke Reddit’s back was the firing of a much-loved female employee.

    The Times needs to know that the public is growing more savvy, and that when its reporters engage in dishonest, shoddy “journalism”, it only drives readers to look elsewhere for fact-based, objective reporting.”

  • Tim Lintern

    Amateurs fail not least of all because one of the aspects of journalism that *is* quite challenging is separating one’s own biases from objective truth. It’s harder than it sounds until you take into account the fact that your own perspective is inherently and hopelessly subjective.

  • Tim Lintern

    I remember when The Guardian had standards, hard to imagine now.

  • Tim Lintern

    Pretty terrifying doublethink, really. You can be proclaimed to have soggy knees for standing up for one woman and criticising another, and their base will accept this without thought or question.

  • Tim Lintern

    It seems to me that there is no possible way for this to not be a “big problem”. Selling your opinions to the public is called an opinion piece, reporting facts is journalism. But *replacing* a journalistic account of events with an editorial? That is gross incompetence at best and willful deception at worst. The only reason to eliminate a journalistic account after the fact to make room for an editorial is if the facts contradict the opinions.

    As for your opinion that “at the end of the day, no matter what people say, time and time again they will click on a sensational story as opposed to a neutral one”, I frankly find that to be very cynical. I abhor sensationalist bullshit and clickbaity titles as the short sighted and patronising alternatives to remotely decent quality work that they are. I actively avoid content like that and cannot name a single friend who doesn’t feel the same way. Maybe that says more about the quality of friendship I am prepared to accept than the attitudes of the general public, but I think a lot of people in gamergate and beyond would agree with me on this point, and that is no small cross section of people.

    Also, ethics may not pay the bills, but not having them can sure cost you. Ask Gawker Media about the tons of money their unethical practices have cost them.

    Literal. Metric. Tons.

  • Ben Jeanotte

    And yet Gawker can afford to absorb that cost 20 times over. As much as everyone hates gawker, they are miles above most of their competition. Even while I don’t like them, I still find their links among the most shared on my feeds. Their over 300 million$ net worth is pretty insane for an online media empire.

    Research shows that sensational headlines and lists get the most views, whether me and you are clicking on them or not. There is a reasonable pressure for certain online publications to conform to these standards if they wish to see success. So instances like this, I don’t hold against a publication.

  • I believe you are 100% right. People complain about the kind of media, in essance, they keep breeding, while all the ethical outlets do not get nearly as many hits. I blame the readers too

  • I am shocked this has not happened yet