No Montreal media appear on either list, though the Toronto Star gets two dishonorable mentions, for prematurely killing off Morley Safer and for bringing the Detroit murder rate up by a factor of 50. The Ottawa Citizen, meanwhile, put a photo of an innocent man on a section front, identifying him as a pedophile.
Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski has a column (via Regret the Error and Toronto Sun Family) about errors in newspapers. He starts off talking about an error in the Toronto Star and then talks about some of his own. (Funny how media outlets have no problem talking about direct competitors by name when they’re pointing out their flaws.)
I suppose we can’t say he’s hypocritical, since he does self-criticize, but the Star has an online corrections page, while the Sun does not. And my experience with Sun papers have mostly involved hilarious headline mistakes and errors they made about me. Neither of these have since been corrected (at least not online).
Then again, as the Sun Family blog points out, the Star this week also admitted to plagiarizing the Sun.
The article talks about the reluctance of journalists to admit their own mistakes. It’s something you find in all professions, but journalists have a special duty to get their facts right. In fact, it’s the only thing they have to do.
Naturally, the article talks about how great the Star is at their corrections (few Canadian publications have corrections pages) and how they want to get better.
One suggestion, that Silverman has I think given up making because few bother with it, is to actually correct articles online when you issue corrections about them.
As a random example, this article about Ontario’s civil courts makes a simple error, saying that someone is currently in a position when she’s not. The correction is online and everything, but the original error is still there (about halfway down the article), and no mention is made of a correction.
For a more serious example, this correction notes that the Star violated a publication ban by revealing the names of victims in an inquiry. Unfortunately, at least one of the original articles, which has the full names of six children in it, is still online. (I won’t link to it because I don’t want to violate the publication ban myself, but it’s Googlable.)
In case the nature of the problem isn’t blatantly obvious by now, the original articles are emailed, del.icio.used, Dugg and otherwise passed around, and people can read them days after the fact, learning the false information with no clue that a correction has already been issued.
Newspapers, radio stations and TV networks can’t go back in time and unpublish something, but website articles can and must be altered to correct inaccuracies, preferably with a note describing the nature of the error and how it was corrected.
Why is that so hard to understand?
Just over a year ago, with much fanfare, the Toronto Star launched a new service called “Star P.M.”, which was a dozen-page letter-sized PDF file that could be downloaded on weekday afternoons.
The idea was simple: Office workers would download the paper, which had afternoon updates of important stories, as well as things like Sudoku puzzles, print it out and take it with them on the ride home. There are certainly lots of people who take public transit to whom this might appeal.
And from some who fit that criteria there was initial praise of the project, which was the first of its kind in North America.
But there was also criticism with what now looks like keen foresight, pointing out that people won’t download as a PDF what they can get faster in HTML. And then there were numbers to back that point up.
And so it was, this week the Star announced it is killing Star P.M. to focus more on its mobile website, which is a format more friendly to the cellphone-toting workforce. The last issue will be Wednesday, October 17.
The format is what ultimately killed Star P.M. The Star underestimated the amount of effort involved in printing such a document every weekday. They overestimated how fast non-junkies need to get their news (busy workers could just wait until the next morning to read stories in the paper). They underestimated how much time news junkies would spend bored at work reading the paper’s website, or getting any news they cared about from their favourite blogs.
The new mobile website (“mobile version” is the new “non-Flash” or “low-bandwidth” — making me wonder why the rest of the website can’t have such a simple design) is a better way for the Star to spend its time. It updates faster and it’s much more interactive.
But what about the other PDF papers out there? The Ottawa Citizen has Rush Hour, which is still running. Other such papers in the U.S. and Europe have quietly shut down. Expect Rush Hour to have a similarly sad end.
You might also see obituaries being written for “Game Day” issues, which are special afternoon before-the-game downloadable PDFs with rosters, last-minute updates and other stuff the newspapers think you’ll want to take with you to the game. The Ottawa Citizen has one for Senators games, the Vancouver Sun just started one for Canucks games, and the Montreal Gazette runs one for Alouettes games. Considering these publications have even stricter audience limitations, I just can’t see them getting popular enough to support the work put into them.
There’s also G24, the PDF paper produced by the Guardian, which has the advantages of being somewhat customizable and more up-to-date because the PDFs are produced automatically. This also means that even if nobody reads it, it doesn’t cost the paper anything. Sure, it doesn’t have the newspaper-like modular layout, but is that really necessary in these kinds of circumstances?
By the end of the year, we’ll probably be able to conclude once and for all that these PDF papers are a failed experiment. But, as one blogger commented, at least it was an experiment. We have to at least give them that.
UPDATE (Jan. 9, 2008): The London Daily Telegraph has killed its “Telegraph PM” PDF paper. So I was off by a few days…