The New York Times and Reuters both were criticized last month for updating and changing significant aspects of their October reports on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Also significant is the way the two news outlets handled informing readers, who seemingly ended up seeing different versions of stories without a proper explanation as to what happened.
The New York Times updated its story on the Oct. 1 arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge. The Oct. 1 story was published on the Times’ City Room page. It carries a note that the story was “updated” at 1:23 PM but no correction, clarification or editor’s note.
The story’s first sentence was changed. But, the change wasn’t a minor copy edit. Originally, the Times wrote:
“After allowing them onto the bridge, the police cut off and arrested dozens of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.”
The changed sentence, added about twenty minutes later:
“In a tense showdown over the East River, police arrested hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators after they marched onto the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound roadway.”
Kevin Lerner, a Rutgers University “doctoral candidate in journalism and media studies,” explained on his blog Press Criticism: “The screen grabber obviously wants to imply that somewhere in the 20 minutes between screen shots, the Times either bowed to police pressure or at least changed the lead on its own to avoid pissing off One Police Plaza and probably also the mayor.” Lerner provided this Facebook page as the “original source” as far as Press Criticism could find.
But Press Criticism suggested that the edit wasn’t as sensational as some may believe. For example, Press Criticism noted that the updated story “added a new reporter to the story.” That reporter could have provided information that the first lead wasn’t quite accurate.
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The Village Voice reported that the Times’ City Room Bureau Chief Andy Newman explained the change as symptomatic of the changing, breaking news and addition of more information.
“At every point yesterday as the story unfolded, we offered the most complete account we could of a large and chaotic scene that could not be grasped by any one person. The earlier version had almost no input from the police.
“The later version reflected the accounts of the police, protesters and of course our reporters at the scene. The later version, read in its entirety (not just the one highlighted sentence in that photo), reflected the various perspectives much more thoroughly. The final version of the piece was more thorough still.”
The story originally claimed Soros “was the secret backer of the Occupy Wall Street protests because he gave money to a group that gave money to a group that was an early publicizer of the protests,” the Atlantic Wire reported.
The story was first posted at 11:09 AM EST. It was updated at 5:25 PM EST featuring a new headline denying Soros’ financial backing and a comment from a spokesperson for Soros, the Atlantic Wire explained. Almost 90 minutes later, Reuters again updated the story, reverting to its “original lede,” according to the Atlantic Wire .
None of these posts have an editor’s note or explanation, although later Reuters did add a note to “the updated version” of the story” noting that the update “recasts with comment from Soros aide, adds new details to clarify,” according to Atlantic Wire.
According to the Atlantic Wire, Reuters’ Claudia Parsons, who edited the story, claimed the changes were a result of “a technical glitch.”