Far too many modern news organizations do not have public corrections policies or prominent corrections pages, something that has been well-stated at CJR. International news outlets are certainly no exception.
It has been my experience, after reporting from many locations around the world and working with others who do, that errors are more likely when covering foreign events and topics, as misspellings, misunderstandings, inaccurate references to professional titles, and poor or incorrect translations from other languages can lead to mistakes.
Editors and fact-checkers in New York or Washington, D.C. also often have limited ability to double-check reporters’ accounts of foreign events, especially those in languages they do not speak. Things that are foreign to us are just that, foreign, and reporting on these matters often makes misstatements more likely. Perhaps even more than other news operations, global news outfits need transparent correction pages and solid, visible corrections policies.
Many don’t have them, especially online.
The websites of The Economist, Foreign Policy, the Singapore Straits-Times, The Times of India, World Politics Review, The Moscow Times, Voice of America and Foreign Affairs have neither visible corrections pages nor prominent corrections policies, to list a few. Voice of America does at least have an accuracy policy on its site, stating that “VOA corrects errors or omissions in its own broadcasts at the earliest opportunity.” But the site has
neither a no central corrections page nor a statement regarding online corrections.
Some of these websites contain no contact information whatsoever for reporting an error, and though they differ in size, reach, and editorial tenor, they all come up short in encouraging readers to help them get things right on their websites. The Straits-Times, a massive daily newspaper with eleven foreign bureaus from Bangkok to Brussels to Washington, D.C., can afford to devote resources to an online corrections page, and many of the other household news names listed here can, too. The Times of India, likewise, is one of the largest print operations on the planet and print newspaper circulation in India has risen sharply since 2005. Voice of America claims it reaches 123 million people a week in forty-four languages. A lack of formal corrections pages for these news operations isn’t due to want of resources.
News organizations without proper corrections spaces and policies can at times be dismissive when notified of errors. On June 30, GlobalPost published a photo essay with an image of a 1961 political summit in Belgrade, Serbia, yet the country was Yugoslavia back then, not Serbia.
At the time I spotted the error, GlobalPost’s website had no corrections reporting system, so I sent an e-mail on July 4 and another on July 19, raising the error to “firstname.lastname@example.org.” It wasn’t until July 25, when I told GlobalPost that I would be writing about their lack of a corrections policy and asked them for comment, that they responded to my e-mail and fixed the error. They apologized that my previous e-mails weren’t answered.
If GlobalPost had a formal structure in place for the revelation of errors as well as a published policy about their commitment to quickly addressing them, I likely wouldn’t be calling them out for letting an error linger online for nearly a month. They did tell me they have an unpublished correction policy which they would post on their site, and by July 27 they were offering a brief explanation of how they handle errors.
It’s fair to add that even some media watchdogs have not entirely embraced online corrections pages. NPR’s weekly program On the Media has only offered an online corrections page for its broadcasts and transcripts for about a year or so, and CJR.org doesn’t have one. And of course, even U.S. newspapers, often better at swift, transparent corrections than other news operations, can bungle things.
In spring of 2011 it took me the better part of a month to get The Los Angeles Times to correct a minor factual error about a storied cafe in Cairo. I called the paper’s correction desk and repeatedly filled out their online correction form, but I was ignored. It wasn’t until I started slamming the paper on Twitter everyday (“Day 24 of uncorrected @LATimes error,” for example), that they grew tired of my harassment and fixed the damn mistake. But this was atypical of how the LA Times usually handles errors.
Global news organizations, on the other hand, seem to be almost unified in not taking errors, or their public correction, seriously. This is not a time when global newsmakers can be cavalier about factual accuracy, especially since errors in foreign reporting can creep up more frequently than in other beats. Newsmakers constantly face greater scrutiny, financial pressure, and external competition. The easiest way to lose an audience is to get things wrong and leave them wrong, and once you lose audience trust it takes eons to get it back.
Correction: This article originally reported that the website of Voice of America contains no statement regarding its online corrections policy. In fact, such a statement is available here, under “Corrections”: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/69075687.html. CJR regrets the error.