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Do you care if a news website changes a story after publication?

October 31, 2013

By PJ Vogt

Late last night, when most reasonable people were sleeping, NBC News published a story about how, despite Obama’s promises to the contrary, many people weren’t able to keep their existing health care under Obamacare. Then, NBC News did something unusual. They unpublished the story. About a half an hour later, they published it again, but with a seemingly innocuous paragraph deleted.

I saw all this because journalists don’t sleep well, and a bunch of us were watching this unfold. New York Magazine’s Stefan Becket was awake, and he started tweeting about the NBC publish/unpublish dance as it was happening. As did Talking Points Memo’s Igor Bobic. The Washington Free Beacon’s Katherine Miller screengrabbed the redacted paragraph for posterity. Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, also not sleeping, spoke to a source at NBC who blamed the glitchiness on their publishing tool, although, that doesn’t really explain why the NBC article, when it was finally published for good, would be slightly edited.

For me, the weird thing about all of this is that I think I’m supposed to care a lot more than I do. I’m all for transparency, and for news outlets owning their mistakes – up to a point. But there’re actually instances where I’d like less transparency, thank you very much.

If a news outlet publishes something that turns out to be untrue, please, issue a correction so that people who find their way back to your bad story know where the wrong information came from. But if you just posted draft 8 of your Obamacare story instead of draft 9, and it’s midnight on a Tuesday, and the only people watching are a gaggle of insomniac journalists checking Twitter on their phones instead of sleeping? I’m not sure I mind a little sneaky CMS fixing.

That said, I am almost certainly biased here. I write on TLDR mostly without an editor, and I’ll frequently go back and fix a stray hyperlink or bit of glitchy grammar in the minutes after I post an article. On the Media.

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