Articles about "Corrections Process"


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GAH: BuzzFeed launches new corrections policy, free style guide

How do you correct a listicle?

If you’re Shani Hilton, this is the kind of thing you have to think about. Her official title at BuzzFeed is deputy editor-in-chief, but internally she’s also known as Keeper of the Standards. She is their Gandalf of style, standards and corrections.

So, right, how do you correct a listicle? You can go read for yourself as of today. Hilton came up with a new corrections policy that just went live online as part of BuzzFeed’s public release of its Style Guide. It’s free for anyone to access.

GAH, OOPS

One part of the new BuzzFeed corrections policy, which was first implemented about six weeks ago, is that the correction’s tone should match with the type of content it’s being added to.

“With the new [correction] format it’s more flexible and intended to fit content as varied as a long from reported story to a short political news item to a list,” she said. “[I]t feels weird and totally off to put at the bottom of fun or heartwarming list this really stodgy correction.”

So the new policy makes to clear that it’s okay to have a little fun with your correction, provided it fits with the story. Here’s an example of an acceptable correction from the new policy:

OOPS: Kim Kardashian’s favorite selfie pose is the smize. An earlier version of this post said her favorite selfie pose is duckface.

The key, according to the new policy, is that a humorous correction contain “the basic building blocks — ‘we got something wrong, and here is the correct information’; whereas for a news error, the language should be more sober and direct.”

As for labeling a correction for readers, “A dumb mistake on a list of weird facts about Love Actually can begin: ‘GAH.’ An error of fact in a news story should usually be labeled ‘CORRECTION.’”

Overall, the goal with the new corrections policy is to ensure BuzzFeed writers can do them quickly and easily, and to prevent staff from trying to avoid admitting their mistakes, according to Hilton. It’s also about getting corrections out at Web speed.

The opening paragraph of the new policy lays out the values that underpin the tactics:

Corrections are important for two reasons: First, because we need to be right. And second, because transparency is a core value for BuzzFeed. That’s why you don’t hear us saying things externally that you don’t hear internally or vice versa; that’s why we are so open to engaging critics on Twitter and elsewhere. We live in the social conversation, and we can’t hide from it. And while every error is a weakness, some errors are inevitable, and fully and openly correcting them is a strength.

(I was not involved in the creation of the new BuzzFeed corrections policy, but I did send along some suggested readings after editor-in-chief Ben Smith emailed me before Christmas.)

I’m happy to see BuzzFeed come up with a very simple, useful policy, and that it reflects the culture and content of the organization. It’s also great that the policy encourages BuzzFeed’s writers to “mention the correction on all channels the story went out on — if you tweeted it, tweet the correction, etc.” and to offer credit to people who point out errors. These are valuable community-building activities that increase the power of corrections.

I also suggested to Hilton that as Keeper of the Standards she should write a weekly listicle of their best corrections.

“I’m taking note of that idea, ” she said, which I consider to be a WIN.

Corrections in the CMS

BuzzFeed currently has its writers append a correction to a piece of content, but that process will soon change. Hilton said BuzzFeed plans to integrate a field in its custom CMS where writers can add a correction or update to a story. (A field like this in its system is called a “subbuzz,” for any CMS geeks out there) This ensures all corrections will show up in the same place on a story, with the same formatting.

“You put the information in and it gives you the date and timestamp and formatting automatically,” Hilton said. “A kind of cool thing is you can sometimes find a technical solution to make things slightly easier for people.”

Along with the ease of use, and consistency for readers, this will also mean Hilton can easily pull up a list of all articles with corrections. She currently requires that all corrections are cc’d to the corrections@BuzzFeed.com email address so she can keep track and spot patterns. 

Hilton said they’ve also been talking about finding a way to offer a “button where you could click on any story and see every change that’s been made.” Kind of a NewsDiffs for BuzzFeed. I hope they do it.

Web style

The corrections policy is by no means the only part of the new BuzzFeed style guide that was put online for free today. It also includes guidance on spelling and grammar, a la BuzzFeed.

“It’s important there is is a style guide that tells you how to spell ‘wack’ properly,” Hilton said. 

One section of the style guide is dedicated to “words we use a lot, and that are kind of Internet native. For example, for the group NSYNC you don’t use the asterisk.”

Some organizations, such as Yahoo! and AP, charge for their style guide, but Hilton said they made sure to offer the BuzzFeed guide for free.

“There’s not really a style guide that works for the Web, and our thought was this could be that for people who need it,” she said.

But isn’t releasing this free style guide actually part of a sinister plot to BuzzFeed-ify the web?

“We’re trying to help,” Hilton said, laughing.

(But she hesitated before answering!) Read more

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Correct Not Incorrect

How NowThis News handles multi-platform corrections

Not long after the Newtown shootings last December, Ed O’Keefe was in the NowThis News newsroom when a Facebook profile some claimed to be the shooter’s circulated on social media and via some news organizations. The profile was Ryan Lanza’s; the gunman turned out to be his brother, Adam Lanza.

“I remember very distinctly standing up in the newsroom and saying something doesn’t smell right,” O’Keefe told me in a recent phone interview.

O’Keefe is the editor-in-chief for the video news startup funded by Lerer Ventures and others. The Newtown shootings came when NowThis was just one month old.

“We are a new news brand,” O’Keefe said. “We cannot afford the luxury of commonplace mistakes. I don’t think that the big news brands can either, but in particular who’s going to possibly believe a new news organization if they’re tripping all over themselves making silly mistakes? So I just said don’t do it. Don’t tweet it, don’t Facebook it, don’t ‘like’ it, don’t do anything until you’re sure. It has prevented a lot of problems.”

Two principles

O’Keefe calls NowThis “the first and, at this point, only digitally native news network”.

It produces video for NowThis’s mobile app, website and partner sites such as BuzzFeed and The Atlantic. The NowThis team recently began producing short news videos and infographics created specifically for its Instagram account, as well as content created specifically for other platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. It plans to expand on those efforts.

O’Keefe said NowThis is acutely aware of the need to constantly reinforce that it’s a credible source of news for its target audience of 18- to 34-year-olds.

To do that, O’Keefe, who previously had a long career at ABC News, said he’s established “two overarching principles” for the team.

“Number one, we have to be completely and totally authentic in everything that we do, and that extends from the content through to any corrections that we would need to make,” he said.

“We have our credibility at stake in every social-media post that we do and every piece of video that we produce,” O’Keefe said. “So it’s essential that that authenticity in our tone extend to being genuine and true when we get something wrong. If we make a mistake or if we say something that turns out to be different than it actually is, we need to be very, very up front and honest about that.”

O’Keefe’s other overarching principle? Transparency.

“It’s a very fast-moving, fluid entity that we’re working in and we just need to be authentic and honest with the audience and completely and totally transparent in the event that there is an inadvertent error,” he said.

The principles of authenticity and transparency don’t just govern accuracy and corrections. The NowThis team keeps the first principle firmly in mind when creating content that’s native for — and thereby “authentic” to — whatever platform it’s focused on. So the team creating a video package for the app, website and YouTube is going to approach that task separately from the group creating Instagram content.

O’Keefe said someone looking to get information on Twitter or Instagram expects it to be offered in a way that fits the platform. And he knows that savvy young media consumers will tune out a news outlet that seems not to understand what they want and how they want it.

Instagram, Twitter, video corrections

The approach of mapping content to specific platforms also means NowThis has to think about what a “native” correction should be for each platform.

“We’ve treated corrections like we’ve treated everything we do,” O’Keefe said. “We iterate. We don’t pretend to assume that we’ve got the perfect solution. We try to come up with the best policy and then don’t let it feel like it’s written in stone and can never possibly be changed.”

So far, NowThis has had to issue corrections on Twitter and Instagram. The first Instagram correction came last month when a user pointed out an error via a comment on an Instagram post. (It was in a short video feature comparing Obama and Reagan.) NowThis responded by issuing a correction in a reply comment:

O’Keefe said NowThis has so far avoided making any major errors requiring a correction in a video report.

While saying that “I’d love to give ourselves credit for that,” O’Keefe noted that the lack of errors likely reflects the fact that “we’re producing anywhere from 25 to 30 pieces of content a day and the volume just isn’t such that the quality control has lessened.”

“We’re much more likely to make a mistake on a social platform simply because of the volume of things that we’re doing,” he said.

For video, NowThis’s policy is that “if there’s something that is wrong in the piece, we need to take a few steps.”

O’Keefe elaborated:

A) note it in the piece itself and B) take the contextual area around the piece, whatever it happens to be, and again try to make it clear that something has changed within the piece, which I actually think is probably more powerful than the first part because that’s where people are going to read the contextual information, that’s where they’re going to look for additional supporting facts.

(In the case of a major error in a video, NowThis would likely need to re-upload a new version without the mistake, and note the change.)

The contextual information O’Keefe mentions could take the form of the video description text on YouTube. On a partner site such as BuzzFeed, the team has the ability to write as much additional text as they like.

NowThis’s experience shows that as news organizations adopt different platforms for creating and spreading content, they also have to think about how to apply their ethical principles and correction policies to those platforms. A correction in a web story won’t be the same as one made to a tweet. (I offered some guidelines for social media corrections in a previous post.)

Increased frequency and reporting = increased error?
The volume of content being produced by NowThis is increasing at a steady clip, which of course increases the likelihood of errors. O’Keefe said one of the team’s new initiatives is an hourly video news update available through their app.

“We thought about it from a mobile sector perspective, trying to understand where in the world can you go now and find out the two or three most important things that are happening,” O’Keefe said, adding that “it’s kind of strange” that a lot of traditional news outlets have stopped doing that.

Along with increasing its output, NowThis is also staffing up to produce more original reporting. The network recently hired reporters to cover Capitol Hill, and have other reporters traveling and filing from different locations.

It’s one skill to sort through the content coming in from wires and all sources and decide how to curate and package it. But when you have your own reporter in the field offering something that no one else has, you face a different kind of verification challenge.

O’Keefe said the young reporters NowThis is hiring for the field have a broad and impressive skill set, but lack experience.

“They can write, they can shoot, they can produce, and in some cases they’re very comfortable going straight on camera because they spent their life to a certain extent on camera,” O’Keefe said, adding that “because of the skill set, the temptation is to just toss everybody in and see what comes out.”

The key, he said, is to recognize that many of those young reporters “are still learning about how to report and how to correct it when you make a mistake,” and then to provide the guidance those reporters need.

That’s brings O’Keefe back to the principles of authenticity and transparency. He also mentioned a third principle NowThis has adopted when reporting stories like Newtown.

“Our principle will be: better to be right than first,” he said. “And on the other side, if and when something happens, again it’s as simple as honesty, authenticity and transparency. I can’t prevent every error from making its way through the system, but if it happens, we’re going to be honest about what happened and why.” Read more

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Washington Post clarifies practices and standards for corrections

In an email to staff this morning, The Washington Post clarified its practices and standards for online corrections. The email was signed by three top editors, including Executive Editor Marty Baron, and was a succinct expression of the paper’s method for adding corrections online. 

The full memo follows, with some context and commentary from me.

In an effort to ensure that errors online are corrected as quickly as possible, we want to clarify our standards in this area and announce some changes to the process.

* We are committed to accuracy and transparency. We generally revise the story to make it accurate AND append a correction to the file. Typically, online corrections read like this: “Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported …”

It always boggles my mind when I see an online article that has a correction but that also leaves the mistake within the text of the story. Nice to see the Post be clear about the need to add a correction and fix the mistake within the text. The two go hand in hand.

* We should never “unpublish” stories from the Web. Once a story is up, however, the content can be removed with the approval of a senior editor. In those rare cases when we remove the content of a story from the page, it must be replaced with an editor’s note explaining the reason for the deletion. For example if an embargo has been broken, the note would read: “Editors’ Note: This article was published inadvertently and has been removed.”

This is the right standard when it comes to unpublishing. First of all, you try to never unpublish. But if you do have to remove content, be sure to publish an explanation/apology at the same URL.

One thing the memo doesn’t make clear is what the standard is for unpublishing. That standard has hopefully been made clear to the senior editors who make this call. If they don’t have a playbook for making the decision, the Post should create one.

Also, if the paper goes to the trouble of removing text and adding an editor’s note, it should ideally offer more context than the example offered in the memo; the note should explicitly tell readers why the article was removed. “Published inadvertently” is needlessly vague.

* An editor must be involved in cases of substantive errors. Reporters should not ask producers to correct stories. An online correction can be approved by either a section assignment editor or an editor on the Universal Desk. Of course, speed is key. If the assignment editor is not immediately available, e-mail the Universal desk at universal@washpost.com and copy the assignment editor. Editors can find instructions for posting online corrections here.

It’s nice to see the Post lay out instructions for posting corrections. But as with the previous example about unpublishing, there’s uncertainty about what the paper considers to be a “substantive error.”

We can assume plagiarism and fabrication fall into that category, but what about errors that undermine a story’s central thesis? Is it enough to correct the factual mistake(s) but to not consider whether the article was fundamentally flawed?

Being clear about the standard for “substantive” errors will help reporters know what to do.

* The page for submitting corrections on The Source has been updated with two new fields: a box for the URL of the story, and a box for the text of the online correction. Your online correction should already be up by the time you file a correction for the print edition. When copy editors sign off on a print correction, they will check the online correction and change it if the two are not in sync.

I like this workflow; it ensures consistency between print and online corrections.

* Placement for corrections reflects gravity of error. A serious error must be noted at the top of the story, blog or graphic. For smaller errors, corrections can be appended at the bottom as a footnote, and noted next to the error in the text of the story. In blogs, the tone of the correction can in some cases be made to match the tone of the blog, and a strike-thru is an acceptable alternative. For galleries, photo caption corrections should be placed underneath the photo’s caption. If a correction is needed to reflect the removal of a photo from a gallery, it should appear in the blurb of the gallery. Corrections can be posted directly into a video blurb.

Here again we confront the issue of what constitutes a “serious error.” (Before it was “substantive.”) Placing some corrections as a footnote, others as a strikethrough, and still others at the top of content will create confusion for the reader, and for Post journalists. Picking one standard and sticking with it across stories and blogs is easier for staff and better for readers.

On the positive side, offering specific direction for where/how to add corrections to videos and photo galleries is useful. I also like that the memo makes it clear that journalists can write a correction that matches the tone of a blog.

* Clarifications should be rare and must be approved by the editor-in-chief, or managing editors.

The memo offers no background on the difference between a correction and a clarification. I imagine some in the newsroom may be wondering about that, just as I am. Also, what’s the difference between an editor’s note and a clarification? For the sake of clarity, it would be better to have corrections and editor’s notes and leave it at that. Too many forms of corrections, and locations for them, is a recipe for confusion and poor execution.

Note that contrary to widespread belief, there is no policy against “repeating the error.” We generally do say exactly what was wrong, to make it absolutely clear what is being corrected.

Credit to the Post for the way this point is clearly expressed, and for embracing one standard for all corrections.

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BBC launching an online corrections page

Journalism.co.uk reports today that the BBC will soon introduce an online corrections page.

The news came in an announcement from the BBC Trust that it is launching public consultation on its complaints process. The goal is to introduce changes that “improve the clarity and efficiency of the process, making it faster, simpler and easier to understand,” according to the Trust.

The corrections page was one of three related changes the BBC announced:

  • Create a corrections and clarifications page on the BBC website;
  • Appoint a ‘Chief Complaints Editor’ within the BBC to coordinate complaints handling activity across the BBC Executive, ‘fast-tracking’ specific complaints if necessary; and
  • Establish a guide informing people where to complain (both within the BBC and externally).

I previously advocated for news organizations to create and maintain dedicated online corrections pages. To see what a good one looks like, check this offering from The New York Times. Here’s what I wrote about why they’re a necessary part of a corrections process:

The point of an online corrections page is to have a centralized place where readers can see the latest mistakes and corrections. It gives them the opportunity to discover if a recent article they read, or reporting they heard or saw, has been updated or corrected. It also provides a basic element of transparency. A dedicated page makes corrections more visible and accessible, and it increases the likelihood that people will receive the corrected information. After all, that’s the point of making correction in the first place. Yet corrections pages are the exception, not the rule.

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