Here’s the situation that I find myself in as a blogger: I took a break from my usual business topics here on this weblog and recently wrote a piece about the JonBenet Ramsey murder and what it’s like to be living in the city where the crime occurred, Boulder, Colorado. Here’s the article: Can JonBenet Ramsey Finally Rest In Peace?
A nice thing happened next: the local newspaper, the Boulder Daily Camera picked up the piece and ran it as part of their business op-ed section today. Nice visibility in the local media and some good feedback from colleagues.
The problem? The blog entry is wrong. It’s been what they used to call “OBE” back in my defense contractor days, Overtaken By Events. The suspected killer, John Mark Karr, this afternoon was let go. It appears that his DNA do not in fact match those of the killer of this poor six year old girl.
A mainstream newspaper has a clear and obvious mission to report the news as it happens, and then report corrections and updates as appropriate. Once something’s hit paper, once it’s been broadcast, it’s cast in stone. You can’t reverse time, so there’s no way for a paper to change yesterday’s news.
But that’s not true for us in the blogosphere. Indeed, the Long Tail basically predicts that older pages can well end up more popular than newer pages. That’s like a newspaper that knows its three-week old, or two year old, articles will be more widely read in a given week than what they published this morning.
Which leads to an obvious and difficult question: when you have a blog entry — or any online information — that is shown post-publication to be wrong, should you leave it, update it without notice, or update it and indicate what you’ve changed?
In this case, I opted to simply add an update to the bottom of the article:
Update, 28 August, 4.00pm MST: “John Mark Karr is no longer a suspect in the death of JonBenet Ramsey and has been released from custody. Boulder County District Chief Judge Roxanne Bailin this afternoon granted a motion by District Attorney Mary Lacy dismissing the case.”
I also include a link to the updated story in the Daily Camera for readers who seek more information on the latest revelation in this unpleasant case.
Here’s something I realized, however: regardless of what I do, someone who is exploring the search engines will inevitably bump into my article in the future and read through just enough of it to wonder what the heck I’m talking about, without noticing the update and disclaimer on the bottom of the page.
I suggest we call this the Dark Side of the Long Tail and it’s exactly why I believe that bloggers must go back to the earlier articles that are incorrect and update them somehow, either implicitly or explicitly, to have them be at least somewhat current and correct.
And this, of course, leads to the realization that suddenly blogging can prove to be a real burden. Imagine you’re a political blogger and you keep writing article after article about the latest slander against a candidate, just to find out that it’s not true and never was true. Do you then have an obligation to include a correction of some sort in all of those articles?
Or imagine that you produce a blog all about how to solve common Windows problems. A new version of Windows is then released, perhaps just a service pack, with just enough changes that dozens of your articles are now wrong and out of date. Do you go back and update the old pages to reflect how to accomplish things in the new version?
I think I’m going to stick with adding updates to pages that become glaringly wrong over time, have newer events that completely change the basic premise of the piece or have dangerous or problematic suggestions due to changes in the world around us. Otherwise, well, “caveat lector” (let the reader beware).
If you’re a blogger, how do you handle this situation, if at all? If you’re just a reader, how would you like to see this sort of situation handled in my blog or in weblogs in general?