Journalists are historians.
Often, we are the first to document things ? albeit in a first-draft format that could be better if deadline wasn?t a factor. Some would argue the pressure to produce quickly shouldn?t be an excuse when factual errors are reported. But at times, it is a legitimate reason for making a mistake.
One of the worst feelings for a journalist is seeing a correction published for his or her article. We feel as if the credibility of our newspaper is diminished when attention is called to our inaccuracies. And quite frankly, it?s embarrassing.
Our profession doesn?t always stop to think what it means to our readers if we took time to acknowledge we were wrong and correct our mistakes.
A national survey showed that 63 percent of people polled said that seeing corrections makes them feel better about the newspaper, according to one press association?s handbook.
I think that as news professionals, it?s time we were more forthcoming in admitting we were wrong.
The way to do so is in a timely and tactful way.
One Oracle reader upset about a mistake in our paper wrote to me, ?Unless you intend for your reporters to seek jobs at the National Enquirer, I recommend you encourage them to check facts before publishing.?
That reader went on to also suggest we print a front-page correction with the headline, ?Oracle blows story.?
While Mr. Reader is appreciated for pointing out the error, his suggestion, which I view as outright humiliating to the reporter, was distasteful and tactless.
The way any newspaper, including The Oracle, should handle mistakes is by reporting the correct information as soon as possible once the error is acknowledged. Newspapers should go one step further in making sure the correction receives the proper placement, as well. Don?t bury something significant where readers have to search for it. In the same respect, newspapers don?t have to correct the spelling of a source?s name on the front page. Journalists are reasonable people. And I believe we use good judgement when it comes to the appropriateness of a correction.
At the bottom of Page 2 in The Oracle is a daily reminder that we will correct or clarify factual errors. That space is used mostly for correcting a person?s title or name which printed incorrectly in the previous Oracle.
With more significant mistakes, the correction is displayed more prominently, such as the parking correction at the top of Page 3 in today?s Oracle.
In an ideal newsroom, there would never be a correction or clarification. But journalists are human and prone to err.
About two years ago, I mistakenly published the wrong grading scale for the plus/minus system. The numbers I used in my article were an example of what one professor said he would use ? not what the university would use.
That was one front-page correction I won?t forget any time soon.
But the good part about working for a newspaper is that you have the very next day to improve.
Kevin Graham The Oracle editor in firstname.lastname@example.org