This is where the charming, quaint picture of the good people at The Daily Express starts to change. Everyone knows they will make errors, but the organization as a whole and many of the individuals don’t spend much time talking about prevention, or working on corrections. Some actively try to avoid fixing their mistakes.
Here’s one journalist talking about the fact that it’s pretty easy to bury an error at the paper: “If I wrote a story, and I screwed something up and nobody else noticed it, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to write a correction about it.”
Another said she felt the paper was too quick to offer corrections as a way to appease readers.
“I don’t like the idea that we’re catering to how someone wants to appear,” she said. “I think we’re a little bit too quick to say, ‘oh we’re sorry.’ ”
I asked Hettinga what surprised her that she learned during the interviews. Along with Nathan’s in-person apologies for a mistake, she spoke of one journalist who detailed the extent to which he tried to talk people out of corrections.
“I think it was probably when I interviewed the sports reporter who talked about smoothing over an error,” she said. “What had happened was he had been covering I think it was a high school sport or something and he had messed up an athlete’s name. Not surprisingly the student athlete’s parents called and said, ‘Hey, you got my kid’s name wrong.’ He said that he felt he had apologized in such a way that the whole thing was smoothed over. The parents were now happy, they understood that he felt sad about making the mistake and therefore it didn’t really need to be corrected.”
Not surprisingly, Hettinga also found there was no process for online corrections at the paper. Those in the newsroom knew that a print correction would run on A2, and they seemed to have a general idea about how to write corrections and get them in the paper. (This was in spite of the fact that Hettinga couldn’t find any written policies regarding corrections.) Online was an afterthought. The best that seemed to happen was an editor would sometimes go in and scrub errors out of online content. So no actual written notice of corrections.
“He typically would do that for something ‘smaller,’ as he described it, something like updating a name error or a date error like that, he would scrub it,” she told me. “But, again, it wasn’t consistent either. It was if he thought of it, if someone reminded him.”
This Jekyll and Hyde reality at The Daily Express is a big part of what I think makes its newsroom so typical. There are good people working hard and trying their best. They care about the quality of their work. But some of these same people have a backwards attitude about what it means to be accountable or to truly correct something. Others simply want to avoid the issue altogether.
Amidst these differences, there is a lack of understanding and policies around accuracy and corrections. The leadership is not setting an example or providing the necessary guidance. On top of all of that, online is not considered a place to treat corrections seriously.
I think you’d find a lot of newsrooms who fit the above description.
But what of the Express’s recent unpaid intern? After spending months proofreading and laying out pages, did Hettinga find herself staring down the barrel of a correction?
She tried to recall a mistake of her own: “I want to say I messed up something in the calendar like I changed it from AP style to non-AP style, but I can’t remember exactly what it was but it was caught before it went to press. So in the short time I was there I didn’t have a printed correction—woo hoo! But I’m sure I made another mistake that wasn’t caught.”
Correction of the Week
THE AUSTRALIAN yesterday published an opinion piece by Glenn Milne (“PM a lost cause for warring unions”, Page 14) that included assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister.