Wednesday, July 1, 2009...1:13 pm

Um – who survived the Yemeni air crash?

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Yemen_crashHistory is rewritten by the internet, as yesterday’s five-year-old boy survivor of the Yemeni air crash off the Cormoros islands today morphs strangely into a 14-year-old girl.

I’m sure it’s nice that the incorrect official statements have been corrected. But I’ve noticed that sometimes this has happened without much acknowledgement of the change.

So Google “five year old survivor yemeni crash” and you’ll get loads of results like the one above. But click through to this story from the Canadian National Post, for example, and you get the updated story with no explanation as to why [UPDATE: now the updated story has vanished (15 June 2011), but you can find a ghostly archive reference here].

Yes, way down in the story it does say: “Several Comoran medical officials had earlier reported that a five-year-old boy had been found in the water following the Airbus crash.” But it doesn’t admit to being an updated story itself.

I’m all for process journalism, but I’m a bit suspicious when a story that is all over the web and TV one evening suddenly vanishes from a major news web site.

TelegraphThen again, it also works the other way around. The Google search results for “yemeni air crash survivor” includes this Telegraph story that looks at first glance like it’s about the teenage girl, but actually clicks through to the original report about a boy toddler being saved (I’m putting the web grab in here, just in case the web story is updated).


Is this important? Well, kind of. With this kind of breaking news, it’s difficult to keep track of rumour and inaccuracies. It all happens too fast to be captured in print. So that makes the web the document of record.

And while we want to know what really happened, it may also be important to know how that knowledge came to be revealed.

Which is why news web sites should probably keep their links fixed rather than fluid. I want a link from yesterday to point me to the same place today, thanks. Otherwise online journalism really does become a bit too Orwellian.

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