2012 has so far been an error-filled year at the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily circulation newspaper. (Disclosure: I write a weekly column for the paper, about the media error of the week.)
In a column last week, Public Editor Kathy English highlights statistics about the number of corrections the paper has published so far this year: “In the first three months of 2012, the Star has published 123 corrections,” she writes.
That number is a 50 percent increase compared to the same period in 2011 (“from 80 in the first three months of 2011 to 123 in 2012″). Other data from English: “93 of the 123 corrections were attributed to reporters, columnists and freelancers. Only 25 were classified as editing errors.”
One important question about these data is whether corrections are up because readers, sources and journalists are spotting and reporting more mistakes. Is the Star doing a better job of correcting its errors? Or is it making more errors, resulting in more corrections?
It’s impossible to know for sure, but one relevant piece of information is the paper hasn’t introduced any new kind of error report form or other means to make it easier for readers and/or sources to report errors. (The Star already has an error report button on every piece of content, a great initiative.)
So, we can establish that the increase doesn’t coincide with a new campaign or website design update that could increase the number of error reports, and therefore corrections. That suggests the increase in corrections is related to an increase in errors. Bad news for the Star.
English cites a common newsroom dynamic as one cause of error. “The reality in most every newsroom in North America,” she said, “is fewer editors editing more work on tighter deadlines for the paper and websites than in past years.” The paper offered a new round of buyouts to staffers late last year.
Her data also tell the story of another truth regarding errors and corrections: the vast majority of errors are identified not by journalists but by readers and sources.
Only 31 of these mistakes were reported to me by the newsroom journalists who erred. I don’t think that’s because journalists aim to hide their mistakes. Most often, they haven’t realized their error until it’s raised by a reader or source.
Readers and sources pointed out the majority of those errors with 58 error reports coming from readers and 34 from sources.
It’s a good thing Star readers and sources are stepping up to request corrections. The concern, of course, is why in 2012 they have more mistakes to report.