It’s ‘nonsensical’ to shield editors from corrections, Star ombudsman says

Toronto Star | iMediaEthics
| The Baltimore Sun

Toronto Star editor David Henderson inserted a mistake into a story by Bruce Campion-Smith, but the correction only acknowledged the error. “In this age of Twitter transparency does it make sense to withhold critical facts about who is responsible for mistakes?” Star Public Editor Kathy English writes.

It “was Campion-Smith who took flack” for the error on Twitter, English writes, but Star policy says “Publishing the Star is a team effort and published corrections do not ascribe blame within the Star.” English says she has “been on the fence in this debate between reporters and editors.” She continues:

I understand why reporters regard the policy as unjust at times, but I also know that editors “save” reporters far more often than they insert errors into their work. And studies indicate readers care more that an error is corrected than about who was responsible.

But, given this new transparency we all operate within, it seems nonsensical now to not give our readers the full story.

English tells iMediaEthics’ Sydney Smith “I did not require anyone’s permission to name the editor here.” English writes that Henderson “accepts full responsibility” for the mistake, but declines to name the authors of two other errors that drew corrections the same day, citing Star policy.

“Part of the goal of any correction is to communicate a sense of accountability, and so I’m in favor of noting whether a mistake was a result of an editing error,” Poynter’s Craig Silverman writes in an email. News organizations will often note when a source was responsible for an error. “I never liked that double standard,” he writes. He continues:

I think most people assume the mistake is the reporter’s unless otherwise noted. So an easy way to do this is to only note when the error is a result of an editor or source. No need to say “because of a reporting error.”

But bylines are a “polite fiction,” John E. McIntyre writes in The Baltimore Sun. And transparency, McIntyre says, can run amok in larger operations:

Reporter A gets a tip from fellow reporter B, makes several telephone calls and drafts an article that includes several paragraphs of background information taken verbatim from a previously published article by reporter C. Assigning editor D goes over the article, rewriting the opening paragraph and reorganizing several paragraphs in the body. Supervising editor E. takes the story, recasts the opening paragraph again and makes further changes in the text, in some cases reversing edits by D. When E moves the story to the copy desk, copy editor F corrects the spelling of names and makes a number of adjustments in the grammar and usage. F moves the story to the slot, where slot editor G removes a cliche from that opening paragraph and smooths out a number of other infelicities. Then supervising editor H, who has only just looked at the story, takes it back for further revisions, which then have to be checked by F and G. G prints out a page proof, and copy editor I, reading proof, suggests further changes, some of which G accepts.

Transparency demands that A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I get credit for their work, leading to a list of credits at the end of the story so long that some of the text has to be cut so the story will fit on the page. There is, however, a link to the article online, where the reader can consult a variorum edition, from A’s ur-text to the final published version, and choose the one he or she prefers.

The next day, a reader complains about an obvious and egregious error in the article that no one from A to I noticed.
Whom do you identify as responsible in the correction?

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  • John McIntyre

    Reporters occasionally receive undeserved blame. Because of editing, reporters daily receive unearned credit.