Posts Tagged ‘newspaper corrections’

For me, the most uncomfortable part of The Star’s afternoon news meetings — held every day at 4 p.m. to assess how the next day’s paper was coming together — occurred at the end of the meeting.

It was part of the wind-down, after the various editors had spoken on behalf of their stories and after everyone had weighed in with their opinions regarding which stories should go on the front page.

That’s when the managing editor, or whoever was presiding at the meeting, would say these words: “Any corrections?”

Whenever I  had to acknowledge that I, or someone on the desk I was representing, had a correction for the next day’s paper, I always wanted to curl up in a ball and not be seen. That being impossible, however, I would try to keep my voice steady and state quickly and concisely what the error was and how it occurred. Then I’d try to beat the crowd out of the room. 

In the newspaper business, the journalist who errs — and, by extension, his or her editors — bathes in the waters of ignominy. It is the grade-school equivalent (although no longer imposed on children) of sitting at the front of the room wearing the dunce cap.

With long schooling in the matter of errors, then, I read with great interest readers’ representative Derek Donovan’s column on the editorial page on Sunday, June 27.

It was a very informative column, for readers and reporters alike, because it summed up The Star’s approach to corrections at this point in its history. Donovan made at least two basic points:

1) Readers who are paying attention to such things want to see the corrections run in the same spot every day;

2) When it comes to corrections caused by bad information from a source, the paper should consider changing its style and say that the problem was source related. 

I don’t have a strong opinion about his second point — telling the readers when misinformation from sources was the root of a problem — but I do think that if The Star decided to do that, reporters would be working very hard to convince editors that “sources” were the cause of many problems.

Reporters will do just about anything to stay out of the corrections column. I know because more than once I didn’t self-report errors that no one but me knew about in my stories. 

On the other major issue that Donovan addressed — the placement of corrections — I have very strong opinions.

Donovan was careful — I don’t know why — not to say whether he thought the corrections should always be in the same place. As I see it, when the corrections do not run on the same page every day, when the editors make the readers go looking for them, it tends to devalue the corrections. 

The Star used to run the corrections on A-2 every day. Some time ago — months or maybe a year or more — the corrections began moving around. Donovan explained the variance by saying that the Page 2 design “doesn’t always allow room for the complete list.”

Well, let me tell you, if The Star really wanted to run the corrections on A-2, the page designers could make it happen. They don’t need rulers anymore; the computer does all the math, so don’t give me any page-design excuses.

Taking my basic point a step further, when the paper devalues the corrections, I believe it sends a subtle signal to the journalists that acknowledging errors isn’t as important as it was when they were in the same conspicuous place every day. It reduces the pressure on the journalists to police themselves. 

On Tuesday, I sent an e-mail to Donovan, laying out my theory and asking him if he had any comment. He wrote back: “Nope, I don’t have any comment. I learned the hard way that interacting with anti-Star bloggers is a losing game for me.”

Hmmm. Anti-Star? Me? I don’t think so. Do you sense some defensiveness there? If that’s the prevailing view at The Star — the enemy is right outside the door! — it could go hand in hand with devaluing the corrections. The line of thought (unspoken, of course) could be: “Well, circulation is down, and we’re not getting read by as many people as we used to, so why should we do all these mea culpas on Page 2 every day?”

If that’s the thinking, it’s misguided. I believe it’s important for a paper to own up to its mistakes and to do so very publicly and conspicuously. Put them on the same small platform (Page 2) every day. That’s responsible journalism.

That’s what The New York Times does — puts them on Page 2. Sometimes The Times’ list of corrections takes up 15 or more column inches. But taking responsibility is good for the soul of a paper. Its’ humbling but, at the same time, ennobling.

The Star could stand to follow suit.

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