Last October, Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre made a strong stand for transparency: “I believe corrections must be given more prominence,” he told the Leveson Inquiry that’s looking into the phone hacking scandal and also examining “the culture, practices and ethics of the media.”
Dacre, who is also the current chair of the U.K.’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, was speaking to the inquiry to defend his paper, to talk about self-regulation and also to share a bit of news.
As from next week,” he continued at the time, “the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and Metro will introduce a ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ column on page two of these papers.”
Dacre said a corrections column is an important way for the press to build trust with readers. And for a couple of months, at least, the Mail seemed committed to the project. It published regular corrections, though it almost always failed to add these correction to online versions of stories. (I’ve begun to see more online corrections as of late.)
Then things started to go downhill.
Patrick Casey provided a helpful chart on his blog, Paddy Powerless, to illustrate the frequency of Mail corrections between October and May, and the trend is pretty clear:
As for June, the paper issued just 5 corrections by my count. That’s a suspiciously low number for a paper churning out the amount of copy the paper says it churns out six days a week. (The data were gathered from here.)
“The average issue of the Daily Mail contains around 80,000 words – the equivalent of a paperback book – most of which are written on the day under tremendous pressure of deadlines,” reads the introduction to the Mail’s correction column.
So did the paper seemingly manage to commit fewer errors as of the beginning of this year? Or is it more a case of this initiative losing steam after Dacre’s very public announcement back in the fall?
I’d expect Dacre would have made a point of publicly announcing any new accuracy initiatives as a way of trumpeting his paper’s success as a self-regulated entity. But nothing has been announced. So fewer corrections, but no new prevention measures? (I’ve attempted to contact Dacre in the past for comment on articles but have never received a response. However, on July 25, a Daily Mail spokesman told me that the corrections column appears to have resulted in fewer errors.)
Here’s some additional perspective: Casey recently followed up his look at the Mail with a chart showing corrections from its sister paper, Mail on Sunday. So how does the six-times-a-week Mail compare to its Sunday counterpart?
Here’s the chart for the Mail on Sunday:
To put this into perspective, Casey compared the two papers, and found that “that there have been several weeks where the Sunday paper prints more corrections in a week than its Monday to Friday sister paper.” Have a look:
Something doesn’t seem right.
All of this relates to a larger point: corrections are a sign of a healthy news organization, and they help build trust. They demonstrate to readers that there is an accountability structure for mistakes, and that errors are admitted quickly and publicly, rather than buried.
Unless accompanied by a corollary effort to reduce errors, fewer corrections are a sign of trouble. They suggest errors are not being discovered and/or acknowledged.
Dacre and his staff should mine the data for themselves and see why the paper isn’t issuing as many corrections.
“One of the purposes of launching our Clarifications and Corrections column was to focus journalists’ attention on the need for accuracy,” Peter Wright said. “We are delighted it appears to be achieving this, and deny categorically that there has been any dilution in the paper’s commitment to use the column to correct errors promptly and prominently.”
It’s possible they took note of the fact that this post was cited in a recent edition of Media Monkey’s Diary in The Guardian.
Correction: This post originally said Paul Dacre is the chair of the Press Complaints Commission. In fact he chairs the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which operates independently of the PCC.