Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bug Roundup

Everybody makes mistakes, but as Albert Burnside (played by Alan Alda)in Rod Lurie's Nothing But the Truth notes: "Sometimes a mistake is like wearing white after Labor Day and sometimes a mistake is invading Russia in winter." Earlier this week Japan's biggest news daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun, fessed up to a mistake that was probably on a magnitude  somewhere between those two extremes. On October 13, the Yomiuri issued what its rival, the Asahi Shinbun, calls "a front page apology" for its sensational and erroneous reporting on human stem cell transplants. 

While most readers anywhere in the world would be surprised to see a big front page correction, a study by University of Oregon professor, Scott Maier, reveals that mistakes are hardly rare animals in the news business. After surveying a sample of US news dailies, Maier and his team discovered 2615 errors in 1220 stories. Put those figures through the numbers cruncher and you wind up with something like half the stories printed in a newspaper on any given day being wrong in some quantifiable way. What is rare in the industry is corrections. Maier found that at the end of the day only about 2% of news outlets ever corrected their mistakes. Is it any wonder why Americans have such a low opinion of the journalism profession? 

According to a recent Pew Foundation study faith in the fourth estate is at an all time low in the U.S. While thorough fact checking could prevent many errors from occurring in the first place, Poynter's Craig Silverman notes in his Regret the Error column that correcting errors "can in fact build trust." The public may not be as unforgiving as some might think. In fact, if asked, most people might believe that to err is human but to correct is divine, especially when it comes to setting the record straight. 

Luckily there is a tool called MediaBugs that is designed to do just that. That is - set the record straight. MediaBugs "is a service for reporting, correctable errors and problems in media coverage." The brainchild of journalists, Scott Rosenberg and Mark Follman, as well as software developer, Ben Brown, MediaBugs was funded with a Knight News Challenge grant. The service holds the bright promise of being an effective tool that could be used to bridge the divide between the press and the people it serves. Not only that, as an open source software program it has potential for applications that go far beyond news reporting.

Online publishers of all stripes can also take advantage of the MediaBugs "report an error" widget that anyone can embed into their  website. A number of sites, like Tech in Asia, already use the widget which seems to be an effective way to boost a publisher's proofreading and fact checking processes while connecting with readers at the same time. 

Here is a roundup of Japan-related MediaBugs reports from the last couple of months. Some have been resolved, some have not. While most are of the "wearing white after Labor Day variety," they all serve to hopefully hold news organizations to a standard that would prevent errors on the order of "invading Russia in winter" (or anywhere in any season for that matter).  

From MediaBugs:

Quake Video - In the Wrong Place
(ABC News)

The description for this video, capturing a few minutes of the killer earthquake that rocked Japan in March of 2011, reads: "Residents in Miyagi Prefecture run as debris falls from buildings." The trouble with the story is that the reporter on camera identifies herself as being in Yokohama City...Read more

Picture Imperfect (The Atlantic Monthly - online) 

The caption for a photo of a 2005 North Korean state ceremony accompanying this article on "the strange rise and fall of North Korea's business empire in Japan" reads: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tours the Tehran nuclear research reactor. " The AP photo looks like it was shot inside some...Read more

More than a Village (Vanity Fair)


Before Vanity Fair could publish Michael Lewis' article on President Obama it had to agree to give the White House first crack at reading it and deleting anything it didn't like. The revelation raised lots of eyebrows along with ethical concerns. Maybe the White House shouldn't have checked this article prior to publication but someone should have. In his story, Michael Lewis writes, “On March 11 a tsunami rolled over the Japanese village of Fukushima, triggering the meltdown of reactors inside a nuclear power plant in the town…” More than a village, Fukushima is...Read more

Big Hole in Bagel Head Story (Huffington Post)

Writing in The Japan Times blog, Japan Pulse, Rebecca Milner notes that “a show on National Geographic, ran a segment earlier this week on a kind of extreme body modification that has been happening in Japan’s underground for years. It involves injecting saline into the forehead and... Read more

Punctuation Matters O:) 
In response to the above error report, a lone preserver of punctuation steps up to ask the Japan Times blog about a missing question mark and without fear or favor the archipelago's favorite English news daily steps down... Read the discussion
BTW - I think the bagel head emoticon above,O:), was designed by a HuffPost commenter who goes by the handle "elsquibbs."

What's New? (Inhabitat)

via Charize on Pinterest

The emergency homes for disaster victims built by the Ex-Container Project are new, but that’s not what Inhabitat says. Back in April of 2011, reported that “a group led by Yasutaka Yoshimura Architects… has formed the Ex-Container Project with the intention of...Read more


  1. Insane the number of "small" mistakes one can find as if it doesn't matter...
    Interesting article. Thanks