Today via Geekwire (and others) we’re hearing about how the radio show This American Life has issued a wholesale retraction of their story from January about factory working conditions at an Apple supplier in China. The full retraction is available on This American Life’s blog.
What’s interesting about this is how they’re handling the issue. News organizations make mistakes and issue retractions regularly: this isn’t a unique incident. But, as This American’s Life’s press release makes clear, this wasn’t just any story for them. This was a very big story for them.
To their credit, since they have to retract a big story, they’re doing so in a big way. They’ve essentially done a new story talking about how they got this wrong. They’re even doing a special broadcast just to focus on how they got this wrong. And, they’ve taken full and clear responsibility, apologized, and spoken openly about how this situation can impact the trust their audience puts in them.
A big mistake on a big story requires a big response to make it right. By handling this like they have, This American Life has not only taken steps that very effectively mitigate the harm of this incident, by being so open and upfront they’ve also taken steps to actively regain the trust that they acknowledge an incident like this can harm.
This is a model for how news organizations can effectively handle situations like this. They really should be commended.
I just noticed that MSNBC has posted a digital archive of email from Sarah Palin’s time as governor. As they describe it:
[This] free, public, searchable archive is now complete, with 12,045 documents and 24,361 pages, hosted by msnbc.com at http://palinemail.msnbc.msn.com.
That’s a lot of email to wade through.
What I find interesting though is less what’s in the the archive and more the fact that MSNBC has made the archive itself.
Whatever you may think of Wikileaks and their release of information, their work has made a fundamental change around expectations for information. People now want access to the full raw materials themselves. They will welcome the analysis and digesting that journalists can do. But they want access to the raw materials now on their own as well.
Journalism outlets understand this and want to keep eyeballs on their sites. So they’re moving to copy the Wikileaks model and keep people on their sites.
Given that, it makes sense that MSNBC would do this. They’re not the only ones doing this, though. Al Jazeera, the Wall Street Journal and others have been talking about building their own competitors to Wikileaks in terms of where people can submit documents. There is a lot of discussion about whether they can match Wikileaks’ guarantees that protect the submitters. But the fact that they’re entering that side of this game is telling too.
What this all means is that the era of hyper-full-disclosure isn’t going away, likely ever. The increasingly fragile distinction between purely private and purely public communication is pretty much gone now. All communication in any digital format can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion in case of a crisis.
That’s inherently neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just a reality that we all need to understand and adapt to.