Thursday, April 01, 2004

Duly noted

The Chicago Tribune's ombud, Don Wycliff, solicited notes from readers on corrections. He asked: "Do you want us to explain how our errors were made, or do you just want the correct information?"

Most of the 80 or so responses he got favored more information. Readers wanted the story behind the story. Here are a couple of comments:
"I definitely want to know how errors were made, not just the corrected information. I want to know how you gather and process information, so that I can judge for myself whether or not your information is trustworthy. ... In order to accept the message, I have to evaluate the messenger."

"I think there is value in letting readers know whether the error occurred in the reporting or editing process so that reporters are not penalized for errors that weren't their fault. It would seem to me that correcting an error that was not the reporter's responsibility without saying so unfairly diminishes the reporter's credibility. And it might heighten the copy and city desks' sensitivity to not introducing errors."

"When I was a newsman I made more than my share of errors. When the desk didn't catch them and they got into print, I freely confessed my failings to my boss, but I would have hated a notice in the next day's paper, `The error was made by a dumb rookie reporter.' Thus I wouldn't want the Trib to detail how errors were made, merely acknowledge them."
I had been ambivalent on this topic. I see pros and cons about listing the whys of a correction: because of an editing error, etc.

But I'm coming around. People do assume an error is a reporter's unless told otherwise. They see no other names with which to associate blame. Wycliff points this out.

The most interesting tidbit he shares is information from Margaret Holt, who tracks errors for the Trib. She points out that reporters won't necessarily come out ahead in the blame game. "Over time," Holt said, "the biggest single category of errors is always, always, always newsgathering [reporting]. Always. Nothing else has ever come close."

About 50 percent of the corrected errors at the Trib were caused by newsgathering mistakes. But that means about 50 percent weren't caused by newsgathering mistakes. That's a lot of extra blame to shoulder.

How full should the disclosure be when mistakes happen? -- Chicago Tribune


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