Man sues GateHouse paper over photo error and ‘meaningless and failed’ correction

This story starts with two men, both named Angel Ortiz.

One was indicted for raping a child, among other offenses, in December. The other wasn’t — but the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, Mass., used his photo in its story about the other Angel Ortiz.

Yes, a big mistake. It’s also exactly the type of error I highlighted in a recent post offering advice on how to avoid photo mix-ups.

This incident is made even more egregious because the paper published the story — with the wrong photo — on its front page. After being informed of the mistake, MetroWest Daily News removed the image from its website and published a correction in the next edition of the paper, on page two. (The online version of the article does not include the correction.)

The paper’s action’s did not satisfy the wrong Mr. Ortiz, who filed suit against the GateHouse Media publication February 1, according to a report by Framingham Patch.

His lawyer, David H. Rich, told the site, “The MetroWest Daily News published an inadequate, ineffective, unreasonable, meaningless and failed ‘correction’ in small type buried at the bottom of page 2.”

He also said the paper “failed to respond to or remedy in any meaningful or legally recognizable manner the damage it knew it had caused Mr. Ortiz.” From Framingham Patch:

Rich said he wrote a letter to The MetroWest Daily News Editor Richard Lodge on Dec. 16, demanding a front page retraction. Lodge responded the paper would run something the next day, Saturday, Dec. 17, according to Rich, and he told Rich the photo “immediately removed the photo from the website,” upon receipt of the letter.

“The retraction ran on the bottom of page 2, with no photo,” said Rich.

Lodge, contacted by telephone, said the newspaper does not comment on pending litigation.

This lawsuit raises the issue of what the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission calls “due prominence” — the idea that a correction should be given placement that is commensurate with the original error. Here’s the relevant passage from that body’s Editors’ Code:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

One of the core elements of Ortiz’s suit is that the mistaken photo ran on the front page, but the correction was placed on page two.

Another issue raised in the action is that the paper failed to recognize that the photo it used was taken close to a year earlier in a different courthouse. Framingham Patch quotes from the filing that, “The MetroWest Daily News apparently located a photograph of the plantiff [sic] and published it without conducting any investigation whatsoever to confirm whether the Angel Ortiz referenced in the front page news article was the same Angel Ortiz identified in the photograph.”

It’s interesting to see a lawsuit that includes a focus on a news organization’s failure to perform proper verification, and to offer sufficient correction.

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  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    I’ve seen some papers (including Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times) print front page corrections when the errors were in front page stories. I think the NY Times has done it as well. I’m not sure how many papers do, though. –Julie

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Bottrell/19202822 Kevin Bottrell

    Having corrections on an inside page seems to be pretty standard (whether it should be is a whole other argument). I’m curious if any papers do print page one corrections?