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Correcting our corrections

“Reporters will use emerging technologies, new workflows, and input from their audiences to catch mistakes before they hit the web.”

In 2018, journalists faced accusations of all manner of malfeasance, from having an agenda to fabricating stories. Taking shots at the press isn’t new, but now it’s more than just harmless talk. Governments have imprisoned a record number of journalists around the world for publishing “fake news.” Self-censorship is on the rise. Reporters weather attacks, online and in their newsrooms.

To tell important stories, journalists risk their lives. The criticisms are often undeserved and unwarranted. But sometimes we make honest mistakes.

These errors, big and small, have always been part of the very human, very imperfect pursuits of news gathering and storytelling. But now they’re held up as evidence of bias — or, worse, a nefarious plot to undermine the communities and countries we cover. Journalists seek the truth, not a slant, but errors chip away at our credibility and get in the way of our mission.

In 2019, news organizations will get better at avoiding — and correcting — mistakes, with technology on their side.

We’ve never had better tools to avoid missteps, and, in the face of rising authoritarianism across the globe, it’s never been more important to safeguard our believability. In the months ahead, reporters will use emerging technologies, new workflows, and input from their audiences to catch mistakes before they hit the web.

Editors will employ algorithmic fact-checking to scan stories for potential inaccuracies. They’ll get guidance on the basics first — names, dates, titles. But advice on more contextual information will come as the technology advances.

The wire stories that appear on news sites around the world will no longer sport mere static text. Updates, clarifications, and corrections will appear automatically, ensuring misinformation doesn’t persist on hundreds or thousands of publications months after the fact.

Valuable reader feedback in comments and across social media will reach the right people instantly, providing insights that guide followups and further reporting. Newsrooms will go back to basics, creating processes and workflows that put verification at the heart of their work.

Journalism will never be perfect. But when we get better at dodging the avoidable mistakes and fixing the unavoidable ones, we’ll bolster our credibility, stay more faithful to our mission and do justice to all the stories we tell. We owe it to ourselves, and our audiences, to use all the tools available to us to err less often.

Salem Solomon is a digital journalist at the Voice of America’s Africa division.

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