APME/APPM 2009

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Online credibility 9 a.m.

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APME Panelists discuss their ongoing Online Credibility Projects

Slideshow by Lauren Foreman

Story by Eric Berger

Grappling with the vast, timeless, open and unflinching nature of  publishing online can certainly be difficult. 

Thursdays morning’s session provided evidence of this as editors discussed issues involving reader postings, the separation of news from opinion and “unpublishing”. 

Six different newsrooms participated in APME projects aimed at examining online credibility.

Elaine Kramer moderated the discussion with Ken Fleming, director of the Center for Advanced Social Research at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Kathy English, public editor for The Toronto Star, and Chris Cobler editor of the Victoria (Texas) Advocate, participating in the panel. 

English’s project examined the issue of unpublishing. People often want news to disappear, she said, and while the print product will be yesterday’s recycling, the online content can live forever. While a complete solution to this has not been found, one of the key answers English mentioned is transparency. A person may come to the newspaper horribly upset at what has been published and the damage to their reputation it has left, and a clear policy must be conveyed as to why or why not something will be unpublished. 

Source remorse should not serve as a reason for unpublishing and decisions about whether content should be taken down should be done by a consensus, not just one person, she said. 

With regards to crimes and misdemeanors committed by minors and the lasting stigma, English said a tool to remove news from the website after six months could be a solution. 

English wrote a column on the issue and said she was surprised by reader’s understanding of why a newspaper wouldn’t take a story down.

Search engines serve as another source for unwanted stories to be found through. Even if a newspaper takes something down, that doesn’t necessarily take it off a Google News search. English responded by saying this issue needs more discussion between newspapers and news aggregate sites such as Google.

She also said lawyers have told her they believe legal precedence on unpublishing will come.

Cobbler discussed how their redesigned site effected their credibility. With Fleming’s help they conducted surveys of Advocate readers and found that their audience seemed to have the same level of trust in the online content as the print edition. That being said, only 19 percent of their readers contributed online. Almost equal numbers of people said they trusted unsigned postings by readers as much as letters to the editor.

The subject of how to deal with inappropriate commenting was also brought up. Even if a comment is taken down, readers can make assumptions about what was written. This is another issue that also remains without solid answers.

Looking to the future, Cobbler said a primary issue would be, how do we make sure online interactivity benefits the community? 

Enhanced registration, additional education steps to users and an e-ethics board of readers are components  Cobbler sees as potential answers to this question.

The APME will publish websites for the online credibility projects with space to interact and host webinars over the next year.

Filed under: Photojournalism,

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