Sunday, May 27, 2007

Note to self: website content is a variable, not a constant

This is just an "I hate finding out that what I've apologized for publicly probably wasn't in fact my fault" post.
Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. ( * )
- Roger Ebert

The same holds for reporting what's present and what's missing on someone else's website. Here are a couple of recent instances involving The Union:

A March a commenter took The Union to task for not covering a large peace march in Grass Valley; yesterday she told me that photos of the peace march are now up on the paper's website. She doesn't think they were there before.

A little over a week ago I noted that old comments on pre-2007 stories at The Union's website were no longer visible; a couple days later they were visible, so I issued a retraction (not just on NCFocus, also offsite here) assuming I'd screwed up somehow; then a few days ago I revisited the page and comments were missing again.
(the Union's webmaster reports that he is looking into it)
So either I was mistaken in thinking the problem had gone away, or else the comments really did make a cameo appearance before going offstage again.

In any case, the moral for bloggers is this: any time you report that X is missing or Y is present on a website, note the date in your writing, and take a screenshot, lest later on you (and others) be faced with wondering whether to trust your lying eyes.

and for altruistic webmasters, a request: where feasible, if you make a change, say that you've done so, rather than inflict this uncertainty upon your readers.

note: it is still possible that both I and the commenter misperceived or misremembered; IMO not probable, but possible.


Russ said...


I have had several comments go missing, after I saw them posted. When I ask about the missing comments, I was told it was only data base problems, that would be fixed real soon now. They never appeared.

All that said, most of the missing comments related to critical thoughts about the reporter or how a story was reported. Try, being critical of the staff or a reporter, or the shallow depth of a story, and see how quick the comments disapear. Data base problems. It is called the delete key.

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks Russ. I've heard that under some editors this happens, under others it doesn't.

I want to set the record straight(er), re my "comments made a cameo appearance" speculation - it wasn't a cameo appearance, I was looking at comments on different articles. It seems comments (even pre-recent-website-redesign ones) from this year do show up - e.g. on this JeffP column, but comments from last year (e.g. on this JeffA column) don't.

No apparent resolution yet, for the latter.

Someone else is welcome to check with The Union mgmt and find out what their policy is on retaining community-generated content (such as comments), then report back.

Anna Haynes said...

> Someone else is welcome to check with The Union mgmt and find out what their policy is on retaining community-generated content (such as comments), then report back.

Rather than leave this hanging, I've just sent the following email to The Union's readership editor:

For publication - what is The Union's policy on retaining user-generated content?

Hello Dixie -

Does The Union have any written "commitment to users"?

Does it have a policy on retaining user-generated content? (e.g. story comments- it appears that comments from 2006 (and likely earlier) are no longer visible on articles on The Union's website.)

I'd like to publish the answers on my weblog, so if you can't speak for the paper, could you please get answers from those who can?

thanks much -

Anna Haynes said...

no response yet. Sent this followup email:

Hello Dixie -
If you *have* passed on my question, could you please let
me know who you passed it on to?

And could you please confirm that you did receive the email