But making it hard to find Boing Boing’s archived posts is, for many, tantamount to deleting them. Blue says Boing Boing readers have been e-mailing her to bemoan the loss of the posts and their attached comment threads. Users seem to particularly miss a conversation from a year and a half ago, when Google briefly stopped returning the proper results for prominent sex blogs. The thread - a veritable how-to guide for would-be complainers to the search engine - led a Google representative to contact Blue and make a public statement on the matter. Sex blogs had, apparently, been victimized by a faulty new search algorithm.
That users saw these conversations as a part of the historical record was news to the editors at Boing Boing. “It has shown me what our readers, our community and even what people who don’t read us—people who can’t stand us—project on to us, and what they expect Boing Boing to be,” says Pescovitz.
“There’s a big difference between working for National Public Radio, producing something that is a news piece for that outlet, and writing for Boing Boing,” argues Jardin, who currently works as a commentator for NPR. “They are two entirely different kinds of entities, even though they have really big footprints culturally. Boing Boing is not trying to be CNN or NPR or the Library of Congress.”
But if there is a lower standard for sites like Boing Boing, what is the higher standard for newspapers online? The practice of deleting controversial stories without notice, known as “scrubbing,” is a new ethical challenge that newspapers have just begun to face. “It’s certainly a practice that surprisingly large media organizations are using,” says Craig Silverman, the editor of media corrections aggregator Regret the Error.
Newspapers still underestimate the speed and reach of their Web sites. It’s nearly impossible to remove an inaccurate story before it does any harm. Corrections, inevitably, are as important for a story that has been posted for half an hour as they are for a story in a print edition.
Just ask the New York Daily News, which, during April’s NHL playoffs, reported online that New York Ranger Sean Avery had been taken to the hospital, unconscious, not breathing, and in a state of cardiac arrest. Though wording of the story was changed to reflect the truth - Avery only had a lacerated spleen - the Daily News never ran a correction. And by the time the story was changed, a number of popular blogs had picked up the incorrect story.
“They reported that a guy was in danger of dying, and after they realized that they were completely wrong about it, they tried to pretend like it was never there,” Silverman says.
The hoary maxim that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth is out of bed has never been more true.
Any time content is removed from a credible site, Silverman expects some public attention devoted to what was removed and why. So should Boing Boing be treated as a credible site? It’s up for debate.
“Years ago, at a meeting, I referred to Boing Boing as an institution,” says Shirky. “[Co-editor] Cory Doctorow blew up at me and said ‘It’s not an institution. It’s just our blog.’ A lot of the charm of Boing Boing has been its relentlessly saying, this is stuff we’re obsessed with.”
Jardin echoes Doctorow’s feelings. “This is historically a personal blog. It may be a really high-traffic personal blog, and it may be a blog that is important to a lot of people - it’s certainly important to each of us - but at its heart it’s still a personal blog shared by a number of people.”