A new report from the ethics advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Journalists attacks the digital corrections puzzle, providing best practices for correcting inaccurate information published online. Surely, for Craig Silverman, one of the report’s authors, the corrections landscape badly needed a new map.
For several decades, newspaper readers in the U.S. and Canada have found the day’s corrections tucked away on page two of their paper of choice. This placement became a de facto standard after the New York Times began the practice in 1972. Newsrooms followed the Times’ lead.
Today, in 2011, we have yet to see a similar moment that standardizes the placement, wording and handling of online corrections. There are a myriad of questions when it comes to correcting online content, and news organization continue to struggle with best practices. At the same time, online errors spread father and faster than ever before. They speed across social networks and are deposited into search engine caches and databases large and small.
It’s essential that news organizations establish best practices for online corrections and digital accuracy. That’s why the Canadian Association of Journalists asked its Ethics Advisory Committee to create a panel to do so. The panel was chaired by Toronto Star public editor Kathy English and included Bert Bruser, Tim Currie, Rod Link, Shauna Snow-Capparelli, Scott White and myself.
The result of our work, “Best practices in digital accuracy and correction,” was publicly released this week. I encourage all journalists to download and read the document.
In addition to a set of clear and actionable best practices, the report provides useful (and interesting!) background on the challenges of online accuracy and corrections, and a look at what leading news organizations are doing. It offers much needed clarity for newsrooms when it comes to online accuracy and corrections. (See below to read an excerpt of the best practices.)
To my knowledge, this is the first detailed guide to online corrections issued by a journalism organization. It collects the best practices in use and also offers newsroom leaders and journalists a simple and clear set of principle to guide their work. It’s great to see Canadian journalists and the CAJ taking the lead on an important issue.
On a personal note, I’ve been researching and writing about errors and corrections for seven years and have long been frustrated by the fact that many of our leading Canadian news organizations are behind the curve when it comes to how they correct their errors, especially online.
We now have a simple, actionable path to bring our journalism up to the highest standards. I hope we take advantage of it — and take the lead in this new and essential extension of the ethic of correction.
Perhaps we’ll even see a new standard emerge the way it did at newspapers back in the 1970s...
Craig Silverman is founder and editor of RegretTheError.com, which reports on media errors and accuracy. He writes related weekly columns for the Toronto Star and Columbia Journalism Review. His book, Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, won the Arthur Rowse Award For Press Criticism from the U.S. National Press club, and his columns for the Columbia Journalism Review (cjr.org) have twice been a finalist for a Mirror Award in Best Commentary, Online. He serves as editorial director of OpenFile.ca.
Recommended Best Practices: An Excerpt
• All verified factual errors in digital content should be corrected promptly.
• We should aim for transparency, telling audiences when digital content has been amended or corrected.
• While we should not “scrub” content, minor editing to correct spelling and grammar errors that do not alter the meaning of the content for the reader may be amended without including a corrective note.
• In correcting and amending developing content, particularly in a breaking news story in which sometimes contradictory facts will emerge over time, we should be transparent with audiences throughout the reporting process about what we know and when we know it.
• When there is a significant verified change in the information first published, subsequent files should inform audiences about how the new information differs from what was first reported.
• We should make it easy for audiences to report possible errors of fact and errors of omission in digital content by providing a mechanism for audiences to report errors.
• But readers are not always right. Changes to digital content should not be made as a result of readers’ errors reports without verification.
• When we verify factual errors in digital content, we should amend the copy to make it correct. In all but the most insignificant errors, we should also append a clearly visible note to the article to tell readers that the material was changed/edited/corrected from a previously published version and provide explicit details about what was corrected. For example: An earlier version of this article misstated the overnight price of a litre of gas as $2.40.
• Legal circumstances can determine where corrective notes are placed within online content. Generally, retractions and apologies for legal reasons should be published promptly and displayed prominently at the top of content. In some cases, it may be necessary to publish retractions and apologies more conspicuously on a website’s homepage to fulfill legal obligations.
• It should be easy for readers to find corrections. For instance, corrections may be captured on a prominent online Corrections page linked from a website’s homepage. And, when errors of fact are discovered as a breaking story unfolds through several published versions, corrective notes may be appended to link initial less complete reports to the most complete/correct report.
• If inaccurate information is broadcast through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, audiences should be informed of the inaccuracy – and when possible given correct information – through those same channels as soon as the error is determined.
Click here for the full version of the guide.Where’s Page Two Online?