Every news organization makes mistakes. Online, in print or on television, facts are gotten wrong.
Inevitably they publish some sort of mea culpa, in the form of a “correction.”
But here’s my issue with a lot of the corrections out there: They don’t state the error.
Compare this, from the New York Times:
An article in some editions last Sunday about Pegleg, an app that sends iPhone users on a scavenger hunt, gave outdated information about its price. While it was free when it was introduced, it now costs $6.99.
With this, from the San Francisco Chronicle:
The article about climate change misstated the amount of money that the Greenbelt Alliance says Bay Area agencies are projected to spend through 2040 to improve transportation, land use and air quality. It is $244 billion.
Both these corrections are important.
But the Times owns up to their error, while the Chronicle does not.
While they published the corrected figure, they didn’t even hint at how far off they were. Here’s the sentence they were attempting to correct:
Regional leaders will have $220 million to spend, and should be promoting public transportation, as well as the development of sustainable, affordable housing, Reyes said.
That’s right, the Chron was off by $243.8 billion in the article. Not that anyone reading the correction would know that…
It seems you can break each philosophy (restating the error vs. not) into two camps.
Corrections make clear the quality of our information vs. Corrections exist only to amend mistakes
Both groups have legitimate points:
There is some amount of voyeurism involved in reading corrections just to see how badly someone messed up. (In fact there’s an entire site devoted to it.)
But the first group has the strongest case: Corrections are a good judge of an information source, and news organizations ought to have the integrity to fully own up to their mistakes.
[I don't mean to always use the Chronicle as a punching bag in my posts. Tons of news organizations publish corrections like the Chronicle does. I use it as an example because it's local and I am familiar with it.]
Online Journalism Review (USC Annenberg): To Fix or Not to Fix: Online Correction Policies Vary Widely