Correcting corrections

Posted: March 1, 2011 by Alyssa Mosher in #7 Ethics

01/03/11

Online journalism is very different from any other medium  – and I don’t think a lot of people realise that. Not only is does it give people the opportunity to present a multi-media story, but they have to think about it in a completely different way. The transparency of the Internet is vague and many journalists don’t understand how all of those same ethics and values  still need to apply to online journalism in the exact same way.

When I start to think about journalism ethics in the age of the online-journalism, one thing sticks out: online corrections. Corrections in newspapers are always so obvious – or at least they should be. If a serious mistake has been made, most editors of dailys make a point to put the correction on the same page as the original story. In the journalism world, mistakes are something we don’t like to make. But when something is published incorrectly, we generally have a respectable way of dealing with the issue. I don’t think online mistakes are taken as seriously.

Corrections are too easy to make online. Even with this blog. If  I wanted to retract something from one of my posts, I would simply log-in and work on the specific post like a word document. If I wanted to retract a Tweet or something I posted on Facebook, I’d press “delete” – simple enough. People often argue that drawing attention to mistakes isn’t, but as journalists, we have the obligation to let the public know that we are flawed. Although we try, we don’t always get the facts right and the public needs to know that.

I have never seen an online publication – even a reputable one like CBC – make its online corrections noticeable. Maybe it’s because the CBC is a TV and radio publication and it handles its corrections differently, but I think it’s fair to say that although online journalism is a different medium in many respects, it is still print and its corrections should be transparent.

A week ago, I ran into this issue when publishing corrections or “clarifications” for theAQ.net. New numbers had been released for the voter turnout for this past STUSU election. The chief returning officer initially announced that a record high 32 percent of the student body voted. But after she re-calculating the numbers (and I already posted the article online)  it turned out that only 22 percent voted – the same turnout as last year. So I had to issue a correction to the online story. And then it hit me – how do I do this?

I decided to correct the number within the online article, but I remember being really uncomfortable with that. We’ve issued stand-alone online clarifications before, but we’ve always corrected mistakes within the online article. I think that is a mistake in itself.

The original voter turnout percentage released by the CRO would have made for a huge story (we were already planning a story on it for our print edition the following week). What if people had already read the initial story once and never saw the new number I inserted? They would have never known, perhaps – if they care that much – to question the coverage of The Aquinian because we didn’t follow-up on a big story like that.

I think it would be really simple to make a standard for online corrections, but because it hasn’t been done before (as far as I know) student journalists like me have to just go by the seat of my pants. I guess I could look at the bright side though: I know how I’ll correct an online mistake next time.

Correcting corrections online – ethical issue 101.

ciao4now

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