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Contextualizing the news, especially when it’s wrong

This morning if you search Google for “Enron,” the top hit is (the creditors’ recovery page) and the second is the Wikipedia article on Enron. The first listing from is about 45th and it’s a TimesSelect (= pay) page that doesn’t even actually reference Enron. That’s an example of what’s on the mind of the Times’ ombudsman (um, “public editor”) Clark Hoyt when he begins his column. He finds the Times’ “business strategy” of getting “its articles to pop up first in Internet searches” — well, at least not at #45 — responsible for the quandary the Times finds itself in when it comes to the errors in its archive. I don’t quite see it that way.

Hoyt takes as his example an article abot Allen Kraus, who “once led a welfare office praised for its efforts to uncover fraud.” The Times first reported he resigned under pressure after a bribery investigation without including Kraus’ side of the story and later published a more balanced follow-up. Kraus says his boss eventually publicly sided with Kraus’ version. The details don’t matter much, although I must say it’s a relief for a change not to be talking about John Siegenthaler. The point is that Kraus is understandably upset that searches on his name turn up the Times’ faulty story. If that’s all you read, you’d think he’s a crook.

Hoyt then considers several solutions to this problem, seeming to favor the suggestion that the Time expunge faulty articles from its archive.


In fact, the solution is already in place. If you google “allen kraus” (in quotes), the #1 hit is a Times topic page about him that lists first the corrective article and then the faulty one. Perfect! We get the context we need while preserving the record. Topic pages are in fact the Times attempt to move its content up the Google results page. They give us a single, persistent URL that aggregates everything the Times knows about a topic…including what it got wrong.

Jeez, if the Times expunged from its archive every article about Iraq Judith Miller wrote, we’d think the Times slept through the whole run-up to the war. And future researchers would never understand how culpable the Times was for getting us into that miss. Bloggers get this right-er than Hoyt when we use strikethrough font to indicate an error we’ve corrected. We need the full archive.

Topic pages are a great solution to the problem of providing context, as well as advancing the Times’ search engine optimization desires. Removing articles from the record destroys the value of the record. You shouldn’t write history by rewriting the record.

So, rather than setting “time-outs” for articles based on how important the Times’ judges them, which is Hoyt’s suggestion, do more topic pages. And harvest the power of the crowd to create more topic pages and more context. [Tags: nytimes wikipedia newspapers journalism history archives everything_is_miscellaneous ]

5 Responses to “Contextualizing the news, especially when it’s wrong”

  1. Do you remember the long bet between Dave Winer and Martin Nisenholtz?

    In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times’ Web site.

    The URL of the bet is

    The site is now unreachable.

  2. This issue seems practically ironic. Perhaps, more than anything, hypertext was invented to enable texts to be better contextualized, e.g., through linking in context, linking to context, etc.

    While the NYT may choose to avoid (or, otherwise, fail to achieve) being literate in hypertext, if it’s going to put its work on the web and care about contextualizing that work, they’re going to have to move on from thinking about “what” and “how” and start thinking about “who,” “where” and “when.”

    The “what” of the NYT on the web is the web / hypertext, and the “how” is more information / context rich pages with more information / context rich links. If the NYT embraced that and executed it well, they wouldn’t have their web-for-dummies questions about how the NYT appears in the Google web, because the NYT would web more than Google.

  3. Pathetic. If a person needed the New York Times view on Enron, s/he could Google “enron new york times” and get all kinds of good stuff. If there is current news about the subject one can search Google via the “news” feature and I assume a New York Times article would appear near the top based on its currency. The NYT needs to drop the Search Engine Optimization BS and get back to its core competency, flogging Winer’s syndication schemas.

  4. (also, a search for “allen kraus new york times” pulls up Hoyt’s column, which is good since your link appears to be broken).

  5. fp, I fixed the link. Thanks.

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