Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Wall Street Journal website — paywalled from the very beginning — turns 20 years old today
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
July 18, 2012, 10:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production
fail-whale-cc

From Nieman Reports: The “New Verification” means high stakes in an age of social media

Opportunities to debunk or verify abound, and the price for inaccuracy has never been higher, Craig Silverman argues.

Editor’s Note: Our colleagues upstairs at Nieman Reports are out with their Summer 2012 issue, “Truth in the Age of Social Media,” which focuses on issues like verification, crowdsourcing, and citizen journalism. Over the past few days, we’ve been giving you a glimpse at some of their stories — but make sure to read the issue in full. In this piece, Craig Silverman explores the complexity of verifying content in real time, and across multiple platforms.

In a handbook for aspiring journalists published in 1894, Edwin L. Shuman shared what he called one of the “most valuable secrets of the profession at its present stage of development.”

He revealed that it was standard practice for reporters to invent a few details, provided the made-up facts were nonessential to the overall story. “Truth in essentials, imagination in nonessentials, is considered a legitimate rule of action in every office,” he wrote. “The paramount object is to make an interesting story.”

It was easy for a reporter of the time to get away with a few, or even a bushel of, inventions. Information was scarce and could take days or weeks to make its way to the public sphere. The telephone was not yet widely in use, and the first transatlantic wireless transmission was years away. The early mass-market Kodak Brownie camera was close to a decade from release. The machinery of publishing and distribution was in the hands of a few.

If a reporter wanted to fudge a few details to make his story a little more colorful, well, chances are no one would notice or call him on it. Shuman’s advice is objectionable, but something about it — and the information and reporting environment in which it was offered — seems quaint and charming by today’s standards.

It also highlights how much things have changed when it comes to accuracy and verification.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

Image of fail whale by Brent Payne used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 18, 2012, 10:30 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Wall Street Journal website — paywalled from the very beginning — turns 20 years old today
“From the very beginning it was very clear we needed to cover all the same concerns and sensibilities of the print Journal even though we were online and even though we were a young staff.”
Newsonomics: In the platform wars, how well are you armed?
“Think about platforms as fishing places where you can find large, engaged audiences and build a relationship with them by providing content. Then offer these users some other services off-platform.”
Wired’s making the long and slow switch to HTTPS and it wants to help other news sites do the same
With its HTTPS implementation, Wired’s starting with its security vertical and for users who pay for the ad-free version of the site.
What to read next
0
tweets
How Atlas Obscura helps its web audience discover the real world
Events like its upcoming Obscura Day are meant to help the site’s digital readers discover places they previously only read about.
0Inspired by “independent YouTubers,” wary of cable, Vox.com takes its explainer mission to video
“I made one rule starting out: No desks.”
0You can now get personalized Breaking News alerts on Slack
The NBC-owned company’s new Slack bot lets you follow more than 90,000 topics.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Tucson Citizen
Groupon
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
Los Angeles Times
Bloomberg Businessweek
Apple
The Boston Globe
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Ars Technica
El Faro
The Miami Herald
Zonie Report