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January 08, 2008

On the Importance of Corrections

regret the error.jpg

In an interesting interview on Poynter Online, Craig Silverman of Regret the Error discusses news errors and the importance of correcting them.

Some of the highlights:

Want to see a journalist wince? Publish a sentence that begins this way: "In yesterday's edition, it was inaccurately reported..."

Want to make a journalist squirm? Post these two words above an online story: "Correction appended."

In a media environment where stories are often published in a paper, placed online and then loaded into various databases, the issue of uncorrected errors becomes even more urgent. The errors of today become the errors of tomorrow when they are accessed online or from a database at a later date. As much as we are creating the historical record, we're also polluting it with errors. Errors can then be blogged, cited in research, used in press releases ... they go farther, faster than ever before. In many cases, they exist forever. So we have a responsibility to do everything we can to prevent and correct them. It's part of our job as journalists. Stories don't end once they're published; we are responsible for correcting and updating them.

The other piece, of course, is the effect that errors have on the public's perception of the press. Put simply, errors erode credibility. The public notices mistakes, and they notice when we don't correct them. A survey of newspaper readers by the ASNE found that over 60 percent of readers said they felt better when they saw corrections. They don't expect perfection; they expect us to work hard to prevent errors and to correct any that occur. When we don't do that, they punish us by tuning out.

The first thing to do is create an organizational culture that values error prevention and accepts that corrections are an important part of journalism. Get rid of the stigma of error that causes people to want to hide their mistakes and not learn from them. Then take that culture and make it real through training, effective technology and good processes.

It all starts with an attitude -- a passion for accuracy and a recognition of the importance of corrections.

They are a core part of our contract with the public -- that we will be accountable by publicly correcting our errors -- and yet there is, for the most part, a lack of commitment to the meaningful act of correction. That means creating a culture where reporters and editors are encouraged to own up to mistakes and get corrections issued. It means making it easy for the public to report errors, and thanking them for doing so. And it means presenting corrections in clear language and with a placement that ensures people will actually see them. A correction that is vague or hidden is a hollow act that only serves to absolve a news organization rather then actually correct the record and inform the public.

Newspapers are the most faithful media when it comes to corrections. But the effectiveness varies from one publication to the next. Some newspapers are serious about placing corrections online, while others don't bother. Some have a toll-free number for the public to report errors. Others make readers jump through hoops to find the right person.

Posted by GI at January 8, 2008 10:43 AM


I went to Silverman's website. CAMERA was NOT listed, but Media Matters (a front group for the Clintons) was. So much for his credibility...

Posted by: ben at January 8, 2008 03:03 PM

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