Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
RSS feed

Issuing public corrections when newspapers err bigtime

July 21, 2010

Tags: copy editing, credibility, corrections and errors

Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore's column on what happens when newspapers make big mistakes (such as the Chicago Tribute's "Dewey Defeats Truman") and how "the provisional nature and accelerated pace of journalism can lead to error" and why "news organizations don't correct most of their mistakes -- and what they can learn from them." Her essay, Why Journalists Make Mistakes & What We Can Do About Them (Poynter 7-19-10), gives the unusual example of the Lexington (KY) Herald apologizing in 2004 for its civil rights coverage. "The paper ran a clarification in 2004, saying 'It has come to our attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the Civil Rights movement. We regret the omission.' And back in 1969, a day after Apollo 11 launched, The New York Times ran a correction saying it retracted a 1920 editorial that had argued space flight was impossible." (She links to Regret the Error for that correction.) Craig Silverman, of Regret the Error, says the "big picture" errors, or errors of meaning, are the kinds of error that erode trust in journalism and reinforce criticism that newspapers are biased and unprofessional.

Scott Rosenburg, of Media Bugs, a new open-source correction-tracking service, tells Tenore that it's a shame "that many editors and reporters still believe it's unprofessional to engage with critics even when criticism against them is reasonable and well-documented."

This piece, with its excellent links to additional pieces on the topic, should be required reading for journalists. Thanks to Sue Russell for the link.