It used to be that December and January would bring with them the publication of columns by newspaper editors and ombudsmen that offered an accounting of the number of corrections published by their organization that year.
Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton shared this data:
The Post published 875 corrections in the print edition this year through Dec. 30. That’s down from 1,054 in 2010, with one day left in the year. The 17 percent decrease is significant, and the total is the lowest for any year since The Post began counting in 2005, when it had more than 1,300 corrections, according to Managing Editor Raju Narisetti.
That seems encouraging, but then he revealed it’s a limited sample of Post corrections because it excludes online corrections. The data sample is incomplete, to say the least, according to Pexton. He called upon the paper to start tracking online errors/corrections, and he advocated for the return of the Post’s online corrections page:
I’d like The Post to figure out a way to count its online errors, at least the more significant ones, such as fact inaccuracies and misspellings. And I also recommend that there be a page on the Web site, in addition to the printed corrections on Page A2 every day, where recent corrections are listed, both for print and online.
The paper used to have a page like that, and I’m not sure when it went away. These things are often lost during a redesign.
At the Toronto Star, public editor Kathy English provided these numbers:
The Star published 366 corrections in 2011, up just over 10 per cent from the 328 corrections published in 2010 — which was a decrease from 347 in 2009.
Still, that’s less than the 425 corrections published in 2008 and substantially less than the 2007 and 2006 totals: 497 and 512.
English noted most mistakes “are attributable to reporters and writers making assumptions and not fully verifying facts or double-checking details.” She also said close to 20 percent of the paper’s corrections were a result of name errors (misspellings, misidentifications etc.)
Update: In its post about year-end corrections totals, iMediaEthics reported that, “English told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the count is for print corrections, but the newspaper is finalizing its online corrections count this week.” So hopefully we’ll see those numbers soon. Good to know the Star keeps them.
At the Kansas City Star, readers’ representative Derek Donovan had these numbers to share for print corrections only:
In 2011, The Kansas City Star published approximately 38,000 stories and well over 50,000 photographs, graphics, charts and other visual items. Out of those, 235 generated corrections. That’s down from 2010’s tally of an even 300, though that year’s story count was slightly higher at just under 41,000.Still, that’s an overall decline in the percentages, which is always good news.
The Guardian also published a column looking back at the year in errors/corrections, but it provided no data.
Unfortunately, it seems each year brings fewer correction tallies.
In previous years, I’d see papers such as the Star Tribune, Boston Globe, and Star-Telegram, among others, publish columns that total the year’s corrections and compare the data to previous years. Those three haven’t published anything for 2011 that I’ve seen.
One thing these papers have in common is they don’t currently employ an ombudsman. That’s become more of a trend at American newspapers, as layoffs often hit the copy desk and ombudsman’s office.
“Our numbers are growing after a period of decline caused by the economic downturn especially among U.S. newspapers,” he told me. “We dropped to forty-five members in 2008, but we are up to sixty today thanks to a remarkable growth spurt in Latin America plus a few more in Africa, eastern Europe and south Asia.”
The news for ombuds is still rather bleak in Canada and the U.S. Dvorkin said Canada is left with three, down from fourteen in the 1990s. The U.S. has “around twenty,” also down from a couple of decades ago.
Fewer ombuds means fewer people counting corrections, and fewer end-of-year columns sharing data about mistakes.
It’s worth noting that the number of publications that would share correction numbers was always a small subsection of the overall number of ombudsman. That’s because very few news organizations maintain databases for errors/corrections.
I know that The New York Times, Toronto Star, Washington Post, and Kansas City Star still maintain databases. Apart from that, though, I’m not sure.
It’s tough to do a better job preventing errors if you don’t know what mistakes you’re making. It seems the vast majority of news organizations don’t have this important data, let alone someone to analyze and share it.