Today’s era of modern technology and the 24-hour news cycle demands constant output on the behalf of news agencies. As a result, many media outlets often rush information out on the web and through mobile apps as soon as the news flows into the newsroom—often neglecting the basic copy editing checks that a normal story may undergo.
As a result, it’s important for any agency to have a clear and defined corrections guideline. If I were managing my own online media source, I would have the following rules. I’ll define the rules in more detail below.
1. COPY EDIT FIRST
2. Admit mistakes happen.
3. Be clear with your audience.
4. Make notes when applicable.
5. Establish an interactive system for reporting.
1. Copy Editing.
A rather simple concept here: Copy edit anything that goes up online, before it’s posted. Whether it’s breaking news or not, there really isn’t an acceptable reason not to check over something that representing your agency as a whole. While readers want information as soon as they can get ahold of it, they also want it to be right.
If nothing else, grammatical checks of all stories that get posted online should be mandatory. Professionalism is important, and my agency will be known as one that posts stories with firm grammar above all else. Even when using Twitter, a quick grammar check can go a long way during a breaking news event.
2. Admit mistakes happen
A key point in accountability and gaining the respect of the audience is to be up front with them. Especially in the 24 hour news cycle, where news is constantly being produced and rushed, mistakes will happen. Often times, during breaking news, the mistakes may not even be your fault – they’re a result of the lack of information at the time, misspoken information from an official in the story, ect.
Unfortunately, admitting that mistakes happen in stories and fixing them are something that don’t always happen. In fact, according to a study by the Nieman Foundation which looked at 22 newspaper agencies and their published stories, 59% of stories have at least one error in them. Accepting the fact that this happens is the first step in correcting the problem.
3. Be clear with your audience
This ties in directly with number two. Many institutions who do find errors in their stories, especially online, simply scrub the mistakes from existence. It’s important to let your audience know that you’ve made a mistake, and, if you’ve tweeted the mistake, not just to delete it but to retract it with another tweet, as to prevent your readers who may have retweeted the tweet as a modified tweet to know that the information is incorrect or incomplete. Scrubbing from existence doesn’t help with transparency, it makes it appear as though you’re trying to hide something.
4. Make notes when applicable
Staying true to your audience means not scrubbing your mistakes from existence. My agency would be required to post a note at the bottom of a story signifying the change that has been made—in most cases. Two exceptions to this rule would be the correct simple grammatical errors or misspelling (with the exception of names), as well as if the correction significantly alters the meaning of the story. If the latter is the case, the note should be placed at the beginning of the article, clearly explaining what the mistake was and how it has changed the story.
5. Establish an interactive system for reporting
While agencies may rush to get content online during a breaking news scenario, readers are often quick to point out discrepancies or errors in the comments section of an article. However, it can become extremely tedious for a web editor to read through all the comments on a story to find the one or two substanent errors pointed out by readers.
Therefore, I would institute a separate function on my site that would allow readers to directly report an error, identifying if they felt the error was grammatical, factual, or another issue, and allow them to submit the necessary change they feel needs to be made. This way, any potential issues would be identified directly to editors as opposed to having editors sort through dozens of comments on each article posted.
There are certainly many other things that would need to be taken into consideration for a major agency, but my agency would base our policy off of the five basic points I have mentioned.