Well, that was quick. Yesterday, I reported that the Poynter Institute for Media Studies had published a list of 515 “unreliable news websites” that included this blog. Today I am pleased to report that the list has been pulled with Poynter’s apology, albeit a qualified one.
Poynter’s managing editor, Barbara Allen, posted a “letter from the editor” to their site that read in part:
Soon after we published, we received complaints from those on the list and readers who objected to the inclusion of certain sites, and the exclusion of others. We began an audit to test the accuracy and veracity of the list, and while we feel that many of the sites did have a track record of publishing unreliable information, our review found weaknesses in the methodology. We detected inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases that were the sources for the list and our own rendering of the final report.
But not all is sweetness and light. The scope of the apology was limited to “weaknesses in the methodology,” not for the more invidious sin of having created a blacklist in the guise of providing readers with “a useful tool … to gauge the legitimacy of the information they were consuming.” As Poynter should well be aware, there are no shortcuts on the information highway. Any intelligent reader who has taken a wrong turn into the realm of fake news will find that out for himself soon enough, whether the website he visits is on Poynter’s list or not.
That Poynter has not learned that lesson is revealed in the last paragraph of Allen’s letter, which reveals that their list will be back up once they make refinements:
… [W]e are removing this unreliable sites list until we are able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria. [Emphasis added]
The letter ends with a “pledge to continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards.” I don’t see how that’s possible when you’re doing the devil’s work.