Corrections and errors

NPR left two words out of the Declaration of Independence, listeners caught mistake


In its annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, NPR’s “Morning Edition” accidentally omitted two words.

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On Monday, hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep apologized to Thomas Jefferson, the original colonies and the whole country for leaving out the words, “establish commerce.”

“The most impressive part of the episode is that sharp-eared listeners caught this omission fairly deep in our founding document,” Montagne said. “If we’d said, ‘When in the course of events,’ many people would have caught it.”

She and Inskeep thought of other well-known documents and what those would look like minus a word or two.

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The Sun corrects: Man complains once or twice a week, not every day

British newspaper The Sun called Marcus Stead “Britain’s biggest whinger” — “whinger” means “whiner” — saying he complained to a local government body every day. It corrected the article:

Mr Stead says that, in fact, the number of complaints is closer to one or two per week. We are happy to put his position on record.

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D.C. gossip columnist’s obit relates corrections she took

The Washington Post

Diana McLellan died Wednesday. The former gossip columnist for The Washington Star, The Washington Post and The Washington Times was 76. Adam Bernstein’s obituary for McLellan includes a quote from former Star columnist Jack Germond, who said she “did not make a fetish of checking out fully every little nugget that came her way.”

For example:

Once, at the Star, she noted a “D. Acheson” on a party guest list and erroneously reported in her column the attendance of statesman Dean Acheson.

In her apology to readers, she wrote that “Ear writhed with anguish to learn that Dean Acheson, whom it had listed among Terrifics whooping it up at a divine party recently, is a teensy bit dead, and has been for ages.”

When she was at the Post, Bernstein writes, McLellan wrote that Jimmy Carter had bugged Blair House, where Ronald Reagan was staying as he prepared to become president. Carter, Bernstein writes, “threatened to sue The Post for libel and demanded a retraction and public apology, which the paper issued after printing an editorial calling the bugging rumor ‘utterly impossible to believe.’”

McLellan worked at the Star with Editor Jim Bellows, who in his terrific 2002 book “The Last Editor” asked McLellan about her accuracy issues.

“Louise [Lague, McLellan's cowriter of the Star's "The Ear" column] and I each blamed each other in private, but if you personally wrote it, you had to set it straight,” McLellan told him. “If our victim was inappropriately indignant, we added enough details to our correction so that he wished to God he’d kept his mouth shut.”

Bellows also relayed McLellan’s philosophy regarding the column, which reportedly raised the Star’s circulation by 6 percent its first year:

“Take it easy on the little guys; the biggies can, and will, take care of themselves. And always leave a sprinkling of spice out of a particularly juicy item. It might come in handy later, to season a grovel.”

A “grovel” was what McLellan called a correction. Read more

Brazil Soccer WCup Germany Portugal

NYT corrects: It hasn’t been 924 years since Germany won the World Cup

An important correction rides below David Waldstein’s story about Monday’s Germany-Portugal World Cup match:

An earlier version of this article misstated the last time Germany won the World Cup. It was 1990, not 1090. Read more

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Exhausted businessman

Journalists on their biggest mistakes: ‘I deserved the angry phone call I got for that one’

On Friday, we asked journalists about their big mistakes (and I wrote about one of my own.) That first story included several other stories that readers shared on Facebook this week. Here’s what we heard today through email and Twitter:

Jeff Bercovici, reporter, Forbes

A couple months into the launch of Radar Online in 2006, I got a tip from a friendly source who always had good media/advertising gossip that Apple was going to drop Justin Long from its Mac Guy/PC Guy ad campaign. I called up Long’s rep, who immediately started spinning me: Apple wasn’t “dropping” anybody because Justin’s contract was almost up anyway, etc. I took this for confirmation.

What I didn’t know was this was the first she was hearing of any of it; she was just spinning a reporter out of reflex, I guess. There was, as far as I can discern, no substance to the rumor, just a bum tip. Apple being Apple, it blew up like crazy. Instant national story. CNBC booked me for a segment. I was on air when the host told me that Apple — which virtually never comments on anything — was denying the report. He asked me to comment. Erp. My Radar friends still tease me about it all the time.

Bill Fonda, editor, Weymouth (Massachusetts) News and Braintree Forum

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What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?

It’s Friday the 13th. There’s going to be a full moon. And (not really related,) yesterday, I made a big mistake. In quickly aggregating a story about the death of a photojournalist in Iraq, I wrote that the photographer worked for Time. He did not. Time was reporting on it. My editors and I fixed it quickly, tweeted corrections, added one to the story, and did all the things you’re supposed to do when you mess up.

I still felt awful, both about the news itself and my sloppy handling of it. Earlier this week, (this is eerily related,) along with a post about a newspaper that sent the dummy page to Newseum, Poynter asked our readers on Facebook about the worst mistake they’d ever signed off on. Here’s what they told us. Send your own to me via email at or through Twitter, @kristenhare, and I’ll add to our list of shame.


It’s ‘nonsensical’ to shield editors from corrections, Star ombudsman says

Toronto Star | iMediaEthics
| The Baltimore Sun

Toronto Star editor David Henderson inserted a mistake into a story by Bruce Campion-Smith, but the correction only acknowledged the error. “In this age of Twitter transparency does it make sense to withhold critical facts about who is responsible for mistakes?” Star Public Editor Kathy English writes.

It “was Campion-Smith who took flack” for the error on Twitter, English writes, but Star policy says “Publishing the Star is a team effort and published corrections do not ascribe blame within the Star.” English says she has “been on the fence in this debate between reporters and editors.” She continues: Read more

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NYT corrects: Senator wore ‘herringbone, not houndstooth’

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul wore a powder-blue blazer, a pink tie and sunglasses when he hung with Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. A description of that blazer in Jason Horowitz’s New York Times story about their man date has been updated, and a correction appended:

An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly the type of suit worn by Mr. Paul. It was herringbone, not houndstooth.

Reached by email, Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy said the correction did not come from either party in the story, but from “an alert reader who commented online.” A moderator alerted the Times’ standards editor, spawning the correction. “We’re lucky at The Times to have very smart, engaged readers,” Murphy said. (Here’s the comment, which like the correction, Alex Seitz-Wald spotted.)

As it happens, Nicholas Morine has written about the differences between the two fabrics, and has some advice for accessorizing with them:

The rule of thumb when pairing clothes bearing a houndstooth pattern to other accessories and garments is to always stay very close to the base colours, or at the very least to pay attention to the accenting pinwheel colours. Contrasting colours never work with houndstooth, and risk the chance of creating a clownish impression.

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How ‘communicating imperfection’ can increase readers’ trust in journalists

After studying corrections from three newspapers in different parts of the world, Zohar Kampf and Efrat Daskal concluded that journalists don’t “understand the great ethical potential in corrections.”

That sometimes leads to corrections that are “incomprehensible, ambiguous texts, devoid of any significant content or meaning for the readers,” according to their paper, “Communicating Imperfection: The Ethical Principles of News Corrections,” which was published in the journal Communication Theory. Kampf is a professor and Daskal is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of communication and journalism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In an email exchange, they identified the main barrier to effective correction for journalists and news organizations: a culture of shame around errors.

Newspapers shouldn’t be ashamed of errors or fear them, they said. “They are inevitable part of any human conduct, especially one that is restricted with deadlines. If editors and journalist will internalize this idea we will have a better profession, one that confronts criticism with respect.”

I like to say that a correction is an act of promotion that builds trust. The public does not expect us to be perfect. They are in fact suspicious of a news organization that never admits an error.

As the title of Kampf and Daskal’s paper suggests, we need to become more comfortable with — and better at — “communicating imperfection.”

Kampf and Daskal set out criteria for an ideal correction:

An ideal corrective text should overtly accept responsibility by using a performative marker, such as an apology, which points to the ethical positioning of a transgressor vis-à-vis the offence and the offended party and may also serve as a compensational gesture toward the offended; it should acknowledge and describe the offense, including the flawed procedure leading to its occurrence and its consequences; and it should identify the offender and the offended parties as such.

The above captures how much a correction is supposed to do in a small amount of space. A correction is often one sentence, tucked away. And yet we expect so much: It must repair damage; it must demonstrate a commitment to accountability; it must be clear about the error and the correct material.

It seems unfair to expect so much from something that is given such little prominence. And yet this is an argument for how fundamentally powerful the correction can and should be, if only we were willing to invest more effort.

That’s why Kampf and Daskal call upon news organizations to include more information in corrections.

“We think that our most bald suggestion is to disclose more information on the journalistic practices that have lead to errors,” they told me. “Such exposure of backstage information (with needed limitations, of course) may be of value to readers who will know more about journalists’ methods and routines and, as a result, will better understand the complexities and difficulties involved in serious journalistic work.”

Corrections study

For their study, they analyzed print corrections from three newspapers: Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth, USA Today, and the U.K.’s Daily Express. The sample of close to 1,500 corrections was drawn from an initial data set of thousands of corrections from between 1968 and 2008 for Yedioth Ahronoth, and from 1998 to 2008 for the other two publications.

Kampf and Daskal write that they selected these outlets because they fall into the category of the “‘Serious-Popular Press,’ lying at the center of the continuum between the serious press and tabloid newspapers.”

They examined the corrections to see whether they contained the four elements of what they called the “textual model of accountability”: (1) the corrective marker (2) the offender (3) the offense, and (4) the offended party.

A corrective marker is any “form of symbolic responsibility and/or any compensatory marker.” For example, the phrase “we regret the error” would qualify as a corrective marker.

The main example of a corrective marker in the collected corrections was a headline such as “Corrections.” While it may be a proper label, Kampf and Daskal view the lack of a marker within the correction text itself as a failure of accountability.

“The preference to include a corrective marker in the headline which does not count as an explicit admission of responsibility, and to avoid responsibility markers in the body of the correction, seems to indicate the tendency to create the appearance of an ethical response while blurring actual responsibility for the error,” they write.

Kampf and Daskal found that overall the papers were good at indicating when the original error had appeared, and that the print corrections tend to appear within one week of the original error. In terms of location, USA Today and the Daily Express both have a set location in print for corrections. Yedioth Ahronoth, however, places corrections in different parts of the paper.

“In most cases (82%) the error and the correction appear in the same section of the newspaper, but within these cases, the correction more often appears on a later page than does the erroneous publication,” they write.

When it came to specifying the party guilty of making the error, the researchers found the vast majority of corrections do not name a specific person or role. In my experience, most organizations take the approach that every error is a collective mistake and therefore don’t specify a guilty party. The New York Times stands out for specifically stating whether a mistake was due to an editing error. (Or a source error.)

Kampf and Daskal also found that corrections rarely state the cause of an error. Certainly, part of this is the space constraints of a printed correction. But even online, with unlimited space, you don’t see a reason given for a mistake.

The authors see this as a major missed opportunity for news organizations to provide readers with a better “understanding of the complexities of journalistic work.”

Overall, the data showed that most corrections —the lowest percentage was 79 percent at USA Today — make it reasonably clear what the original mistake was, and what the correct information is. However, they also found that between six and 21 percent of the corrections studied made “no sense.”

Thick corrections

Kampf and Daskal advocate news organizations offer what they call “thick corrections.”

Thick corrections provide a more complete picture of the offense and the organization’s sense of accountability for it. They have a greater potential to actually repair damage and forge a stronger connection with the audience, according to Kampf and Daskal. In contrast, “thin corrections” are when the minimum possible information is offered, sometimes resulting in confusion or frustration for the reader and any offended party.

“Thick corrections should contain information about the nature of offence, the processes leading to the error within the news organization and identify the offended party as such,” they told me. A good correction “should be contextualized in a way that allows readers to fully reconstruct the inaccurate initial publication. It is quite rare to find a correction that includes all four textual elements that corresponds with the all journalistic and accountability values.”

They also suggest that social media and other digital channels are ideal “for communicating imperfection.” These mediums offer “a constant and enduring arena for engaging the public in open discussion with journalists about press practices and performances, and, at the interpersonal level, it may serve as a means of symbolically compensating specific victims.”

In this respect, a correction becomes a piece of content that journalists can enhance and personalize in ways that add value to it, while bringing additional attention. This act helps add heft to a correction, but it also helps it meets its goals more than ever before.

But, first, more journalists need to embrace the fact that every correction, no matter how much it hurts your pride, is a chance to demonstrate your values and build rapport.

A correction is an opportunity. Read more


Cleveland station falsely reports Browns owner’s indictment

WEWS | The Plain Dealer | NBC Sports |

Cleveland’s WEWS-TV said Friday it had removed a false report from its website. The report said Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam — who is also majority owner of the Cleveland Browns — had been indicted. “An internal investigation is underway to determine how the erroneous report was posted,” the station says in a post.

Haslam “has never been charged in connection with the FBI’s ongoing investigation into fuel rebate fraud that came to light in April 2013 after the FBI and IRS raided the company’s corporate offices in Knoxville, Tenn.,” Evan MacDonald writes in The Plain Dealer.

“It’s possible has had a story regarding a Haslam indictment ready to go, and that someone accidentally published it,” Mike Florio writes.

Also on Friday, Boston’s WHDH-TV removed a story saying two men were suspects in a murder. There were no charges against the men, Malden, Mass., Police Chief Kevin Molis told

WHDH’s initial report cited multiple unnamed “sources” who said the suspects were held overnight at Malden Police Department and would face a judge in Malden District Court Friday morning.

WHDH-TV reporter Victoria Warren said the reporter who received the information was “trying to get to the bottom of this discrepancy.”

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