In 2007, Wired published an issue that focused on the emergence of “radical transparency” in business.
“Get Naked and Rule the World,” it declared. The subhead for one of its major features declared, “Fire the publicist. Go off message. Let all your employees blab and blog. In the new world of radical transparency, the path to business success is clear.”
There was even an article that used Dunder Mifflin, the fictional paper company featured on NBC’s The Office, as a case study in openness. “Because in this new era of radical transparency, the way you sell paper is by showing the world that you’re not above getting reamed,” it advised.
Well, what’s good for the boardroom is also good for the newsroom. And that’s why Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos stepped up this week to get reamed. Here’s the opening sentence of a blog post he published on Tuesday, detailing the implications of an independent review of polls published on his Web site:
I have just published a report by three statistics wizards showing, quite convincingly, that the weekly Research 2000 State of the Nation poll we ran the past year and a half was likely bunk.
Writing at Salon, Dan Gillmor said:
If there’s a Mother of All Corrections, this comes pretty close. When the proprietor of a well-known and widely followed media organization brings something this awful to the attention of his audience, and in such a forceful and prominent way, he’s doing something fairly rare — and noteworthy.
Perhaps the best measure of an organization’s commitment to transparency is to see what it does when things go wrong. Does it clam up and dribble out useless, incomplete information? Or will it embrace the brutal side of being open, warts and all? It’s much easier to be transparent with information that seems neutral or positive; true transparency is all about what you do when things go awry. Will you hold the line or retreat into the shadows?
Moulitsas made the right decision, and now he’ll have to weather the inevitable storm that comes his way for prominently displaying research that turned out to be useless. One comment (or “letter,” as Salon deems them) on Gillmor’s post does a good job of pointing out the error of Moulitsas’s ways:
The REAL issue here, that the author is avoiding, is not that R2K provided faulty data. It’s that Kos didn’t do proper due dilligence on his poll provider, and passed on the faulty polls to his readers for over a year. That is unforgiveable. Perhaps Kos won’t be so smug in the future about the research that formal news organizations engage in. Fact checking is part of being a journalist. So is ensuring the quality of materials you outsource.
Fair criticism. It’s also useful in that it highlights how Moulitsas can prevent this from happening again: by being more rigorous in checking the data his polling partner provides. Sure, Moulitsas is a journalist, not a pollster—but he’s also a publisher, and is therefore responsible for what goes on his site. That’s why it’s good that he doesn’t mince words about what needs to happen with the Research 2000 data: “I ask that all poll tracking sites remove any Research 2000 polls commissioned by us from their databases. I hereby renounce any post we’ve written based exclusively on Research 2000 polling.”