Imagine a world where everybody can write the news

There’s an interesting post on the BBC Editor’s blog at the moment in which BBC News website editor, Steve Herrmann, explains the editing decisions which led to a moment in which the late Benazir Bhutto told Sir David Frost that Osama Bin Laden had been killed being edited out of footage used.

Herrmann explains:

"Under time pressure, the item producer responsible for publishing the
video on the BBC website edited out the comment, with the intention of
avoiding confusion. The claim appeared so unexpected that it seemed she
had simply mis-spoken. However, editing out her comment was clearly a
mistake, for which we apologise, and it should not have happened. There
was no intention on our part to distort the meaning of the interview,
and we will endeavour to replace the edited version
currently available via our website, with the original interview as
broadcast by Al-Jazeera, which, in the meantime, you can find on
YouTube here."

Personally, I think their explanation is insufficient but that’s not what interests me here.

What is fascinating is a suggestion by one of the commenters (someone called Kendrick Curtis if you;re interested) who suggests the BBC publish a ‘page history’ for news stories on their site.

Curtis suggests that if:

"every published version of an article was available via a
link from the page (and each revision had hardlinks for deep-linking
purposes) then it would be thoroughly obvious when a revision was made.
New revisions could even carry a tagline to indicate what had changed
between the previous version and this one."

Now that strikes me as a brilliant and hugely radical thing to do. Except it’s not that radical as it sounds to me like the edits History page on Wikipedia. Add to that a Discussion section on BBC news stories like Wikipedia’s Discussion and you have a near perfect system for improving the authority of news stories.

You do so through building the news round social knowledge. I won’t go into a deep definition of ‘social knowledge here and now but David Weinberger’s intention for the phrase is the way in which Wikipedia accepts up front that there is no definitive version of the truth in the same way there’s no definitive version of the news.

Social knowledge allows a record of the multifarious voices in any situation (news story) to be heard and mapped out, ultimately providing us a slightly messy if not better and more accurate version of reality. See pp. 140-147 in Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.

However, I don’t know how likely the BBC – or any other ‘traditional’ media outlet would be to implement the idea. As Weinberger points out:

"A similar delaminating of authority and knowledge would have serious consequences fo traditional sources of information because their economic value rests on us believing them."

Technorati tags: BBC Editors, censorship, social knowledge, David Weinberger

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