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Mistakes happen in journalism. Even in the good ole days of print-only! Today’s omnichannel environment is no different.
That doesn’t mean any of us contenteers want mistakes to happen, but they do. I won’t even say more than in print – unless somebody has numbers to prove one way or another?
Either way, there are different trains of thoughts on how to correct mistakes.
But first, what are the different types of mistakes?
Brushing with some broad strokes here:
1. Minor errors
Typos, grammatical issues, for example. That doesn’t mean they are okay or acceptable, but in the big picture a typo usually is minor. Fix it. Next play.
2. Factual inaccuracies – inadvertent
Of course, what’s fact or interpretation is open to debate and looking at Twitter we know people do indeed debate this.
These are facts that are verifiably wrong.
Just because I don’t like you calling me fat when I am by health department standards that doesn’t make that fact inaccurate. For example. I’m working on my diet!
3. Inaccurate details – on purpose
When people just make stuff up. On purpose and sometimes with intent. Now cool and after fixing it you most likely should part ways with those writers.
How to handle corrections
Back in my print-only day’s corrections would read like this:
A fact about Christoph was wrong yesterday. He’s 6’4″.
At some point corrections added a statement saying how the mistake happened:
… due to a reporter’s error
… due to source error
Those statements don’t add much context honestly. I find it more useful to hear what the mistake was. Of course, in print that was often not the practice.
And sometimes that’s the case on digital, too.
Some options to address mistakes in web content
1. Just fix the mistake
Some publications just fix mistakes and move on. It’s not acknowledged at all.
For a typo, I think that’s fine.
1.1 Just ignore it
Some company publishers – usually – just ignore them. The article was published with a typo? Oh well, let it be.
Most journalists are not fans of this approach.
2. Acknowledge the mistake
Some publications fix the mistakes and say something like this on the top or bottom of the article:
We updated the story to fix a mistake
Or something similar that says something changed, but we don’t know what.
3. Acknowledge the mistake and fix it.
That’s what the Washington Post does:
The following tweet was deleted <insert picture of tweet> because of a mistake which was <insert mistake>. Here’s the correct information…
I find that most transparent.
4. Do an entirely new article explaining the mistakes and what happened
This is often in the form of an editor’s letter explaining what happened and what will be done to avoid it.
Usually this happens in major cases and/or when somebody threatens legal action or has brought legal action in the case of potential libel.
In the digital world, sometimes other media outlets will cover other media outlet’s mistakes, too.
I like the transparency of the Post and also the case-by-case approach of measured response. Typos do not need a huge explanation – usually. Now, if the typo creates a true misunderstanding that’s a different story of course.