46 Times Vox Fucked Up a Story
December 30, 2014 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Deadspin takes on Vox's inaccuracy problem It appears that pace of the Internet, hubris, or the specific kind of "new journalism" (or "data journalism") - in some combination has created a monster of inaccuracy over at Vox.com (SLTDeadspin)
posted by jlittlew (70 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well ... At least they still make some great guitar amps.

/meta
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:34 PM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


"Don't believe everything you read on the internet"- Abraham Lincoln, 1912
posted by Renoroc at 6:35 PM on December 30, 2014 [52 favorites]


Yikes
posted by stinkfoot at 6:38 PM on December 30, 2014


and the house style seems to be, "Write as if you are an expert, in a tone assuming that everything one needs to know about a subject can be found in your article."

Yep. Someone on twitter called this "actually journalism" and it's stuck with me ever since. If you insert an "Actually," before any Vox headline it works, tone-wise.

Another term I enjoy is "Voxsplaining."

It's just another clickbait site, ultimately. The house style is so gratingly authoritative that I usually give them a pass, and apparently they can't even back up the authoritarian tone by getting things right.
posted by naju at 6:41 PM on December 30, 2014 [22 favorites]


Vox is so new and growing so fast I can cut them slack. They have been grabbing so much market share so quickly they probably have enemies.
posted by stbalbach at 6:41 PM on December 30, 2014


Why cut them some slack? Journalism must be based on excellence, otherwise it's not journalism. And what is the point of that?
posted by Nevin at 6:44 PM on December 30, 2014 [66 favorites]


Anyway, every time you want to cut them some slack, just remember this charming gem:

Correction: The first chart in an earlier version of this post said it listed the number of toilets per capita, not per 100 people. Clearly that was wrong — 102 toilets for every 1 Boulder resident would be way too many.
posted by Nevin at 6:45 PM on December 30, 2014 [15 favorites]


Mislabeling an axis on a chart is a pretty minor gaffe, as these things go.
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:49 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is a good thing Vox didn't exist back in 2001. If they did, we might have gone to war on a flimsy pretext.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:53 PM on December 30, 2014 [45 favorites]


If it weren't for the clickbaity headlines and smug tone of the site, I'd be more forgiving of these sorts of screwups.

I still read the site.
posted by persona au gratin at 7:02 PM on December 30, 2014


I have been irritated by Vox ever since my brother told me that I must be wrong about {whatever the topic was}, Vox had an article all about {whatever} and he was pretty sure they knew more than I did.

Sending him this article now.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


While those errors are pretty embarrassing, Deadspin hasn't done much unmasking; the FA is simply collection of a bunch of Vox corrections. Which is a lot of corrections, but I'd be curious how big the denominator is here. Maybe Deadspin can dig that up.

Far more egregious is Vox's continued employment of Matthew Yglesias.
posted by notyou at 7:12 PM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


How getting "What time do the polls close?" wrong is not number 1 on the list, is beyond me.
posted by fragmede at 7:13 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Gawker/Vox Great Clickbait War is on, then?
posted by Xere at 7:13 PM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


I've been somewhat disappointed in Vox but Deadspin is part of Gawker which the Vox sites compete directly with so this isn't exactly non-biased.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


This reminds me of Michael Lewis's (author of Liar's Poker) critique of The Economist: "The magazine is written by young people pretending to be old people. If American readers got a look at the pimply complexions of their economic gurus, they would cancel their subscriptions in droves."
posted by Auden at 7:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [34 favorites]


really? we're going to start dinging news sites for correcting errors? sheesh. it's not like deadspin is doing any analysis here, like how long it took vox to fix stuff. it's just a list of things vox admits it got wrong.

so what? making corrections is a real and important part of journalism and i, for one, am very happy that they do it on a regular basis. it's what i expect from a responsible news organization.
posted by bruceo at 7:25 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Vox is so new and growing so fast I can cut them slack. They have been grabbing so much market share so quickly they probably have enemies.

Maybe they shouldn't be grabbing so much market share if their journalism is incorrect and their authoritative tone ludicrous. Just a thought
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:25 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why cut them some slack? Journalism must be based on excellence, otherwise it's not journalism

Vox was never considered "Excellent Journalism" that's a straw man. Vox is infotainment like the majority of so-called news. It's a business competing for your attention and doing a really good job, they are grabbing market share like no tomorrow. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read it, just know what it is.

Deadspin is part of Gawker which the Vox sites compete directly with

Right. Vox has grown so fast so suddenly it has the competition freaking out. Not surprised to see a hit piece even if it has some basis in fact, problems can be found if you look for them. The salacious headline "Vox Totally Fucked Up" underscores the sort of emotional knee-jerk reaction they are aiming to create. Propafuckingganda.

Maybe they shouldn't be grabbing so much market share if their journalism is incorrect and their authoritative tone ludicrous.

Yeah well a lot of people don't care about that. They might even like it that way. Have you ever watched Fox News? It is one of the most successful news shows on TV. They make these Vox problems look like nothing. Vox.. Fox.. hmm...
posted by stbalbach at 7:35 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


the house style seems to be, "Write as if you are an expert, in a tone assuming that everything one needs to know about a subject can be found in your article." These Bright Young People may well be near-experts on one or two subjects, or at least close enough to pass as such online

The really disturbing (and/or funny) thing to contemplate is that this just covers the articles that were so unambiguously, obviously wrong, about indisputable matters of fact, that they actually had to run corrections — it hardly even touches on the deeper fakery of the house style/tone. Vox has basically institutionalized fakespertise — it's the journalistic equivalent (and often the literal equivalent, too) of the undergraduate pulling an all-nighter right before the final research paper is due, with a bibliography consisting mostly of whatever showed up in the first page of Google search results.
posted by RogerB at 7:36 PM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's just sweatshop/assembly line kind of writing: you churn out as much content as you and not worry about facts because they do not matter. It is quantity over quality and there is too many articles for anyone to remember these days. It is not about reflection pieces, but reaction ones.

I have learned to avoid sites like this entirely and decided to be choosy with what I need to know and want to know. I really don't need to fill my head with inaccurate nonsense these days as there is only so much of me to go around...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:39 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Seriously? This is an editorial image?

I hate everything now.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:03 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think this is a problem of magnitude. Almost every newspaper article I have encountered on subjects that I have detailed professional knowledge of has errors. Since news is no longer treated as a loss leader or a public duty, I don't think journalists are afforded the resources to be accurate.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:13 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Far more egregious is Vox's continued employment of Matthew Yglesias.

it's useful to have someone whom everyone knows will be first up against the wall.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:34 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Anyway, every time you want to cut them some slack, just remember this charming gem:

Correction: The first chart in an earlier version of this post said it listed the number of toilets per capita, not per 100 people. Clearly that was wrong — 102 toilets for every 1 Boulder resident would be way too many.
This is a pretty odd way to say that the writer thought per capita was the fancy version of percent.
posted by denmch at 8:50 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Vox was never considered "Excellent Journalism" that's a straw man.

Yes, but Ezra Klein and many of the site's other contributors were considered excellent journalists. The biggest disappointment of Vox is that it hasn't even remotely added up to the sum of its parts. Worse still, we lost those parts in the process.
posted by schmod at 8:57 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


All The Venture Capitalist's Men
posted by sylvanshine at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Write as if you are an expert, in a tone assuming that everything one needs to know about a subject can be found in your article."

This is precisely what drove me away from Vox in short order after it launched.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:23 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know, I've found Yglesias comes up with a decent idea every month or two - I think he's right that DC should repeal the Height Act. But since he has probably written several dozen bad ideas in the meantime, the good ideas are easy to miss.

Still, that's a better batting average than most of the NYT editorial columnists.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:30 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Original Headline: Tonight will be the longest night in the history of Earth
Corrected Headline: Tonight will not be the longest night in the history of Earth. It was in 1912.


For what it's worth, I much prefer the corrected headline. I would definitely read an article that came with that headline.
posted by Mender at 9:31 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm perpetually confused about Vox. I took quite a shine to Verge / Polygon when I used to be more of a tech-head, but having Vox attached to them makes me wonder about the whole lot. I don't really share the concerns about the errors or journalistic tone, but the lack of direction or focus confuses me.

If I open up BuzzFeed, Foreign Policy or even Digg there's an immediate sense of tone and content, Vox just seems to be a wall of "stuff", where "stuff" isn't quite as compelling as other general / niche sites.

Its masthead should be "bluh".
posted by zedgoat at 9:33 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think this is a problem of magnitude. Almost every newspaper article I have encountered on subjects that I have detailed professional knowledge of has errors.

I too find journalism misleading and inaccurate about areas I have knowledge of and about situations I know the facts of. I assume it's similarly shit about things I don't know as well.

Earlier this year I was a minor source for a story. Story comes out wrapping everything relevant in layers of aggro bullshit, but I expected that. Later on I'm sitting with a couple people who mention they met the journalist at a party the previous night. I said, "That assh- you know, I bet he's not even an asshole, it's just his fuckin' job to write a fuckin' bullshit story," and they confirmed.

You can read this headline as "Vox taking too many clicks from Gawker."
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 9:38 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


My favorite piece of blatant Vox.com idiocy didn't make Deadspin's list: this ridiculous chart, which was discussed in a thread here about the ice bucket challenge. It's by far one of the most stupid and misleading things I saw at a news website all year, using single charities to stand in for entire disease populations and wildly distorting reality in the process. It's almost completely incoherent.
posted by mediareport at 9:41 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


The hilarious thing about this is that Deadspin even mentions the previous time they went after a new competitor, Grantland, under the fig leaf of accuracy in online journalism.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:45 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The toilet correction is a trivial one (and was clearly made with tongue somewhat in cheek).

I have no love for Vox but if it actually bothers you that a site is frivolous clickbait, you should probably voice your objections in a form other than frivolous clickbait.
posted by leopard at 9:48 PM on December 30, 2014


Vaux News
posted by miyabo at 9:58 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Anecdata:

I once emailed CNN about a story that had a troubling error in it. It was a 'cybersecurity' story that was talking about the threat-of-the-day; some malware that took your address book and mailed out copies of itself (in pdf form or whatever) to everyone in your address book with some innocuous title ("please open this doc, for some reason" or whatever) to propagate.

The problem with the CNN story was that after correctly describing how the malware propagated it then gave the following advice (i'm paraphrasing): "Don't open attachment from strangers." So I emailed them, and I'm like, you're advice is solid, but it doesn't address the threat you just described - you need to tell people to be cautious in opening mail from people they KNOW.

I never heard back from CNN. Thankfully the story was updated to give better advice - it looks like they got my email (and perhaps email from others that pointed out this problem in their story).

But, and this is the thing, and the point of this anecdote, they never mentioned that the story had changed, they never mentioned that they made a correction to the story - they just silently updated it like nothing happened.

I guess my point is, yeah, looks like Vox correct its self a lot. But to me that's a feature, not a bug. It would be problematic if they left bad information in their stories, and didn't note their errors, or if they silently updated their stories like nothing ever happened.

It's fair game (in my book) to critique them on the types of stories they run, but I won't complain at a ton of corrections, and it would be a mistake for other folks to look at news organizations that have a ton less corrections as more trustworthy sources.
posted by el io at 10:12 PM on December 30, 2014 [15 favorites]


Also, if you want a easier way to read this, with a more complete list, type 'correction site:vox.com' into google.

(if you type the same thing into gawker, you largely see gawker writing 'stories' about other publications corrections - they must not have very much stuff to correct, or something else).
posted by el io at 10:30 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really had high hopes for Ezra Klein, his departure from Wapo suggested a much larger vision than Buzzfeed's little brother than Vox turned out to be.

Maybe that's the downfall of the ad-driven Internet-0.whatever space that we're suffering through right now, no one has managed to combine real, actual, as much as you may hate him Glen Greenwald-style journalism with economic viability without an Angel-investor.

Vox got whatever 10x millions in investment, but it was the same type of venture capital with expected returns, they're beholden to clickbait driven articles to meet investor demands more than any actual journalism.

Ezra has proven he's capable of better, Vox's devolution is a clear incitement of character.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:35 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


What are we supposed to do with this information? The raw number of corrections tells us nothing. What's the ratio of corrections to the number of articles posted, or the number of empirically falsifiable claims made? How often and how long are erroneous claims left uncorrected? And more importantly, what's Vox's error rate compared to other media outlets? Are they especially bad, or typical, or better than average? But to answer those questions would take time and effort, when it's easier to point and laugh at a list of corrections.

This article does the same thing it's accusing Vox of: shallowly using facts to present a misleading view of the situation. It's not technically incorrect to claim that Vox fucked up 46 times (let's be serious: they've probably fucked up way more than 46 times, otherwise they're doing vastly better than their competitors over the same time period), but what the article tries to suggest is that Vox's model for producing content makes it more susceptible to making serious mistakes -- a conclusion the article provides no evidence for at all.
posted by hyperbolic at 10:59 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


I've been somewhat disappointed in Vox but Deadspin is part of Gawker which the Vox sites compete directly with so this isn't exactly non-biased.

A pox on all their houses.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on December 30, 2014


A vox on all their houses.
posted by telstar at 11:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seriously, it can't be stressed enough how hard Gawker Media has been gunning for Vox from the minute that site launched. The main site has had a LOLvox story weekly.

Does the article have merit? Maybe. But it also has to be viewed in the context of being part of an ongoing campaign run by a business competitor.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that the Economist has figured out how to make a bunch of 20-year-olds sound like they are 65 and that Vox has figured out how to make a bunch of 20-year-olds sound like they are 13.
posted by JackFlash at 11:50 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Gawker has been trying to make this Vox rivalry a Biggie Tupac thing for a long time now. Yawn.

Seriously? This is an editorial image?

Yeah, and there is probably tens of manhours in meetings and revisions and overtime involved in reaching that point.
posted by rhizome at 12:28 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I met a couple of Economist reporters. They seemed more early 30's-ish*.

Like many folks, I can be a horrible judge of age. They seemed pretty smart though.
posted by el io at 1:25 AM on December 31, 2014


Yes, but Ezra Klein and many of the site's other contributors were considered excellent journalists.

By idiots. As a journalist he made a decentish blogger, but it's telling that of the political blogging pioneers it was already connected to the Washington bubble people like him and Yglesias that became professionals while better bloggers were left by the wayside.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:46 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


This article does the same thing it's accusing Vox of: shallowly using facts to present a misleading view of the situation.

Really? I thought they were accusing vox of using incorrect facts.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:16 AM on December 31, 2014


I think it was on Mefi where in response to the word "clickbait" someone wrote "No!!! They are trapping all my valuable clicks!!!".
posted by josher71 at 2:25 AM on December 31, 2014


"Really? I thought they were accusing vox of using incorrect facts."

Hum, I thought they were 'accusing' vox of correcting its mistakes. Plenty of bad journalism, but I'm not gunna jump on that hate bandwagon. Correcting with notice is good journalism, not correcting or silently correcting is much journalism.
posted by el io at 2:39 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


One weird thing (at least to me), is that Vox Media was founded by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas who were pretty iconic liberal bloggers in the early aughts but Vox seems to show no signs of those (Net)roots.
posted by octothorpe at 3:53 AM on December 31, 2014


they just silently updated it like nothing happened

times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify
times 19.12.83 forecasts 3 yp 4th quarter 83 misprints verify current issue
times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify
times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling
posted by graymouser at 4:05 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Guys, I'm just relieved that Gawker had set up their investigative journalism site to take on stories like this rather than leave it to one of their pseudo-news departments like, I dunno, sports or something.
posted by ardgedee at 6:06 AM on December 31, 2014


vox comes up as a social media site at work and is blocked by the nofuninternetfilter, just like facebook.

buzzfeed is not blocked, neither is reddit, and neither is pinterest.

or medium. or slate.

not that i trust the internet-blockers to know what's up, but i found it interesting that a supposed news site would get put under social media and blocked when other very well known sites that are pictures of cats and kardashians are not blocked.
posted by sio42 at 6:40 AM on December 31, 2014


These aren't just corrections for minor factual issues. I think for many of them, the common thread is that the author - in many cases seeming not at all knowledgeable on their subject - simply made something up and kept trucking. The one about Germany not being a major arms exporter is one good example.

I also like the grudging admission that a bridge from Gaza to the West Bank has not "actually" been built. Just yet.
posted by ftm at 7:09 AM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


It's not technically incorrect to claim that Vox fucked up 46 times (let's be serious: they've probably fucked up way more than 46 times, otherwise they're doing vastly better than their competitors over the same time period), but what the article tries to suggest is that Vox's model for producing content makes it more susceptible to making serious mistakes -- a conclusion the article provides no evidence for at all.

Except that it does do that, in a "bowl of brown M&Ms" way - if they're making that sort of volume of errors on the little things, what sort of bigger errors are they making?
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:24 AM on December 31, 2014


Yeah the corrections are pretty egregious. The Gaza-west bank bridge? Whoever bought that idea knows nothing about the IP conflict, yet they wrote an article about it
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:33 AM on December 31, 2014


not that i trust the internet-blockers to know what's up, but i found it interesting that a supposed news site would get put under social media and blocked when other very well known sites that are pictures of cats and kardashians are not blocked.

This is actually because the vox.com domain used to be an entirely different enterprise in about the early to mid 2000s - can't find links right now because on mobile, but it was a social media/blog project associated somehow with LiveJournal. I remember it launching (and fading).
posted by lokta at 9:04 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


oooooh. very interesting. thanks lokta!
posted by sio42 at 9:14 AM on December 31, 2014


The biggest disappointment of Vox is that it hasn't even remotely added up to the sum of its parts. Worse still, we lost those parts in the process.

I can't favorite this enough. I really, really miss Ezra Klein's one-man blog from like 2008 or 2009 or so. He had a few things he cared and covered them really well.
posted by gerstle at 9:22 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


> the vox.com domain used to be an entirely different enterprise in about the early to mid 2000s

Wikipedia: Vox was an Internet blogging service run by Six Apart, which ran from October 26, 2006 to September 30, 2010.
posted by ardgedee at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


.Correcting with notice is good journalism,

The corrections are not the problem. It's like if CNN had randomly named a winner in the presidential election at 5pm, announced it everywhere, then 'issued a correction' when the results came out. They don't get to call what they've done 'good journalism' just because they used a practice that is also part of good journalism.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


the sheer chutzpah of a gawker property chastising ANYONE'S journalism is breathtaking
posted by entropicamericana at 12:31 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Recording words in a sequence is just good journalism"
posted by rhizome at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2014


If you want to know where this is going, read this story in Wired, specifically the section about new media start-up Circa. It's like the High Frequency Trading approach to "journalism" -- just get the story out there first and who gives a fuck if it's right, they'll just update it later with no need for a correction because it's just a "stream" out there in the ether.

This is how people want to consume media, and they're going to get exactly what they asked for.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:25 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


the common thread is that the author - in many cases seeming not at all knowledgeable on their subject - simply made something up and kept trucking.

TBF, generalists pretending they are experts based on a few conversations isn't a new problem in media. Experts calling them out on it what is essentially public is.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:54 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


stbalbach: Vox is so new and growing so fast I can cut them slack. They have been grabbing so much market share so quickly they probably have enemies.
Every word but "new" also applies to Fox "News". Your logic is flawed.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:23 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


el io: they must not have very much stuff to correct, or something else

I think it's just that Gawker doesn't use 'correction' for their alterations, they have 'Update' at the bottom of the article detailing later changes.

It's probably a sign of my lack of faith in journalism that I'm glad there's so many corrections in Vox, because (like noted above) it at least means they're fixing mistakes when they become aware of them and are doing it in public. Way too much information now gets posted in haste and repented at leisure, if at all. So, sadly, that they're at least trying to make the final version more accurate and not memory-holing their mistakes puts them in the top tiers of reporting on the web by default.
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:47 PM on January 1, 2015


Ah, glad this thread hasn't closed yet. Another great one on Vox today:

Correction: This post originally featured a different image of Vladimir Lenin with hair, but it was a wig he wore during a thrilling escape.
posted by chortly at 9:20 PM on January 13, 2015


Speaking of Gawker: Gawker Media merging Gizmodo and io9 teams into a tech super-hub

The fact that it's going to be run by Annalee Newitz gives me hope.
posted by homunculus at 6:20 PM on January 15, 2015


« Older If the Auto Has No Tune, Does It Make a Sound?   |   Partisans Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments