Chris Elliot from The Guardian’s “Open Door” column contacted me last week with a few questions about News Sniffer. I answered in detail and the article was published today. It quoted a tiny proportion of what was said, so I thought I’d publish my whole response here:
thanks for your email.
When I started News Sniffer several years ago, I wanted it to be a
resource for those discussing and analysing on-line news articles. As
News Sniffer makes clear, those articles evolve rapidly and that makes
it difficult to discuss them without having the virtual rug pulled from
under you. Some organisations try indicate when they change their
articles, but there is nothing more succinct than just highlighting the
exact differences as News Sniffer does. And we’re also independent, so
there are less concerns about changes not being declared, which is very
The vast majority of changes are of course mundane, but it’s common to
catch things that were published before proper editing which can tell
you a lot about the journalists own ideas and biases.
Just recently the organisation Medialens reported on an article by The
Guardian’s political editor Patrick Wintour. The article was about
media bias towards George Galloway and featured some remarks they
describe as “elitist disdain for majority British views”, which were
News Sniffer clearly shows the remarks disappearing about four hours
later but with no official note about their removal. Three hours after
their removal, an official notice is finally added. I like to think that
News Sniffer helped make that possible.
There are lots of cases like this that News Sniffer has picked up, and
I’m very happy to see it being used as a tool to demand more
transparency from our media.
If you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line.
Feel free to quote this email. I’m hoping you’ll cover my comments of
your own company’s changed article, in particular how Medialens is using
News Sniffer – this would be a good signal that you’re committed to the
honesty and transparency that is so badly needed!
Chris replied letting me know he’d quote what he could and seeking clarification on why News Sniffer focuses primarily on the BBC and The Guardian:
Thanks, I am afraid your email is a bit too long to quote verbatim but I am happy to quote as much as I can. What you haven’t answered is why just the BBC and the Guardian, especially as the Guardian does largely footnote and explain as many others don’t?
I explained succinctly as I could, but none of it made it into article. As always, I’m sure it was for “lack of space”:
sure, understood, I didn’t expect verbatim. Glad you’ll try to get what
you can in though.
Monitoring all those articles (250k articles, 668k versions currently!)
takes up scarce resources, so I had to choose what to monitor carefully.
I’m particularly interested in pro-establishment bias and nobody really
expects The Telegraph, The Times or tabloids to seriously challenge the
establishment. The BBC and The Guardian are generally seen as part of
the “liberal media”, which many expect would be less biased in this way,
so they’re much more interesting to look at in these terms.
I do plan to expand it’s scope though and the source code is open so
anyone can contribute code to monitor any type of news article – they
could even run their own News Sniffers.