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Columns

January 5, 2013

Seeing errors of our ways is important

It has become an annual custom to devote my first column of the year to informing our readers about how badly we screwed up over the previous 12 months.

Last January’s column about the corrections The Daily Star ran caused just a bit of a stir in national journalistic circles when it caught the attention of Craig Silverman of the Poynter Institute.

Its mission statement says the “Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses …”

“I’m happy to report that The Daily Star of Oneonta, New York released its numbers Saturday in a column from editor Sam Pollak,” Silverman wrote. “He said the paper published 116 corrections last year — a figure Pollak said bothers him, “but not for the reasons one might think.

“It’s too low.

“In 2010, we ran 178 corrections. In 2009: 187; in 2008: 174; and in 2007: 176. That’s an average of 178.75 over those four years. Why, then, was last year’s number so small in comparison?”

Silverman wrote: “Pollak is right to be alarmed rather than pleased by a drop in corrections. Corrections are a sign of a healthy, accountable news organization. We know journalists make mistakes, so the goal is to correct as many of them as possible. Not publishing corrections means you aren’t discovering and/or admitting your errors. Of course, fewer errors is a very good thing; but it’s not necessarily the same for corrections.”

Silverman pointed out a staggering figure I hadn’t known, stemming from research in 2007 by Scott R. Maier, an associate professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

Employing statistics from 10 metropolitan newspapers, involving 1,220 news articles, Maier determined a staggering 2,615 factual errors were made, more than two per article on average. The truly scary thing is that corrections were published in only 23 of those stories — less than 2 percent.

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