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Sept. 18, 2009, 3 p.m.

Scott Maier: Our process for online corrections needs serious correcting

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, and its focus is the impact of social media on journalism. There are lots of interesting articles, and we’ve been highlighting a few here over the next few days. Here’s our final one: a piece by journalism professor Scott R. Meier on the future of corrections in a digital era. —Josh]

“Accuracy is our goal, and candor is our defense,” proclaims The Washington Post’s credo for handling corrections and doing so promptly. Imagine the chagrin when earlier this year the newspaper’s ombudsman, Andy Alexander, discovered a backlog of hundreds of correction requests; a few dated back to 2004. In his column, “A Corrections Process in Need of Correcting,” Alexander observed that reporting inaccuracy for some was akin to “sending a correction request into a black hole.”

Rest assured that the Post won’t be lonely in digging deep into this black hole. News errors rarely are corrected. In a study I did of factual errors reported to 10 daily newspapers, I found that nearly all — 97 percent — went uncorrected. Nevertheless, survey research indicates the majority of U.S. newspaper editors and reporters believe that a correction “always” follows a detected error. This level of faith is not widely shared by newspaper readers.

It’s important to understand why newspapers have tended to fall short on their perceived commitment to correct what they got wrong the first time around. And in a time when anybody can easily post — and pass along — news and information online (usually without an editor’s scrutiny), the need is greater than ever to set in place a coherent system of correcting errors — despite the digital practitioners’ assurances about the web’s inherent self-correcting nature.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

POSTED     Sept. 18, 2009, 3 p.m.
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