Editor of NY’s Daily Star alarmed by low 2011 correction total

Earlier this month I wrote about three newspapers — the Toronto Star, Kansas City Star and Washington Post – that publicly released their 2011 correction totals. I noted that, compared to previous years, there seem to be fewer papers releasing correction totals.

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

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?

We have smart, veteran reporters and photographers. You can say the same about our sports department. Our copy desk has had a year of transition and is getting better every day. But most of our people were here in previous years.

So why such a small number in 2011?

It’s a mystery.

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.

The best research we have, a 2007 study done by accuracy researcher Scott Maier, found that fewer than two percent of factual errors in newspaper articles are corrected. The reality is the media’s error rate is much higher than its correction rate.

Unless you can be sure your organization is preventing more errors either through new programs, improved processes or other means, a drop in corrections could be something to keep you up at night.

Sounds like Pollak is a bit of the worrying type, which is a good thing:

We’re trying very, very hard to get those right in 2012. As for the 2011 corrections, I still don’t know why there were so few. Editors worry about things like that. Truth be known, we worry a lot … about everything.

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