AA: I can’t think any anything more important for a news organization than accuracy. It speaks to credibility, which is essential if major newspapers like The Post are to survive in print and online. My continued interest flowed naturally from the initial March 22 column that revealed The Post’s huge corrections backlog. About a month after that, I wrote a follow-up column that reported to readers about progress. Since that time, I’ve written several more columns dealing with various aspects of the corrections process. One scolded The Post for continuing to be slow in addressing correction requests. Another, which quoted you, suggested new ways of correcting errors.
In my blog, I’ve also raised concerns about the need for Post policies to be updated to address online corrections. And in my column last Sunday, I made a passing reference to a lingering problem: Corrections for obvious errors in online stories often get delayed while editors wait for the correction to be approved for publication in the newspaper. As I wrote, that’s “unacceptable” because it increases the odds that inaccurate information will go viral.
CJR: What’s the good news to report about corrections/accuracy at the Post?
AA: There has been marked improvement. Recently, I wrote a blog item noting that the backlog, which once went back years, has been virtually eliminated and that most corrections are now addressed within days. Section editors now are routinely notified when they have correction requests that have been pending more than 14 days and they are pestered until they are addressed. In addition, The Post is close to implementing a new corrections system that will streamline the process so that corrections can be made much faster online. Also, the current draft policy will give authority and responsibility to a few key people who will be tasked with riding herd on requests to make certain they are made quickly. Occasionally, requests still linger too long. But generally speaking, there’s been a huge improvement. I monitor the requests on a regular basis. If there’s backsliding, I’ll write about it.
CJR: What’s the bad news?
AA: If there’s any bad news, it’s that it’s taken longer than The Post hoped to implement the new system. Greater emphasis must be placed on how to correct online. And new policies must be written to address the uniqueness of the Web. For example, how does The Post intend to correct errors in videos? And can it come up with new methods for more aggressively “pushing” corrections to readers through RSS feeds?
CJR: What’s your most memorable corrections-related encounter since becoming the ombudsman at the Post?
AA: I think the most memorable was alerting section editors to the backlogs in their departments when I made the initial discovery about the pending requests. The Post’s Metro (local) staff, its largest, had a backlog of more than 160. For many of those, it had been determined that they didn’t warrant a correction but they’d never been “closed” in the system. Still, it was a large number. The Metro section editor at the time. Robert McCartney, reacted immediately and worked hard to correct the problem. He took it very seriously.
CJR: Turnabout is fair play, so I’m curious to know the most memorable or egregious error you made during your career.
AA: I’ve often thought about that. Thankfully, I’ve never had a whopper. I’ve made stupid errors on dates, addresses and names. In each case, it was unacceptable. Like many journalists, I live in fear of making an error. And I confess that I still occasionally wake from a dead sleep in fear that I somehow got something wrong in my column.
Corrections of the Week
“A June 22 article about G8 security measures in Huntsville incorrectly said that resident Steve Groomes has a gun at the ready should protestors get by the army of police and soldiers scouring the brushes. In fact, what Groomes said in a jovial way was that: ‘I’ve got an Easton 32 in the house.’ The Easton 32 is a baseball bat not a gun. The Star apologizes to Groomes for this misunderstanding.” – Toronto Star