“At times, it becomes overwhelming,” Brock admits. These kinds of requests are part of the reason why the paper has realized it simply can’t correct every single factual error contained in older articles.
“We do not run corrections on every old article just because someone points out an error,” Brock says. “… In some cases, the person wants the record ‘updated.’ They have divorced that scoundrel we wrote about in their wedding announcement ten years ago and they want the wedding announcement removed from the archives.”
In August of 2007, Times public editor Clark Hoyt dedicated a column to the issue of correcting old articles. “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up,” he wrote.
Hoyt noted that, at the time, the paper didn’t have a set policy for correcting older stories. Things have evolved since then, though Brock says it often comes down to a judgement call.
One situation where the paper will always add a correction is if the Times reported that a person was charged with a felony but didn’t publish a subsequent article when the person was acquitted.
“We append a note to the article saying just that: the Times, after reporting the charges, failed to follow up on the resolution of the case and, in fact, the murder charges against Craig Silverman were dropped,” Brock says, using me as a hypothetical (I swear) example. “The case has to be a felony, not a misdemeanor, and the person has to give us legal documentation before we will append the note. We felt obliged to address this issue because of the explosion of people Googling their names. More important, prospective employers were Googling the names of these people, not realizing that they had been acquitted.”
Brock emphasizes that the paper never removes errors from its archives, be they digital or in printed form.
“We do not alter the actual articles in the archives,” he says. “We consider those sacrosanct. We also need on file, for legal reasons, the article as it appeared in the event some issue is raised.”
This policy requires Brock to physically attach a correction to an article in the printed archive in addition to adding it to the online version. It has the effect of adding a footnote to history. (Brock does the same cut and paste operation for corrections to recent articles.)
Sure, it’s a bit tedious and labor intensive, but things could be much worse.
“If we corrected every old article in which an error is cited, we would have to run several open pages of corrections each day,” Brock says.
Correction of the Week
“A letter to the editor, which touched lightly on English ignorance of Welsh matters, was attributed in an early edition to Hwyl Fawry. It should have been attributed to Gill Caldwell. She signed off her letter with hwyl fawr, which translates roughly as ‘all the best’ (March frogs, 6 March, page 35).” – The Guardian (U.K.)
Bad For Business
“A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Rick Steve’s business was a third of what it was last year. Rather, his business is down by one-third.” – Seattle Times
“A headline in Tuesday’s Carolina Living section incorrectly described the Snuggie blanket as sleeveless. The blanket has sleeves.” – Charlotte Observer
Correction: This article originally said that The New York Times’s free online archives only dated back to 1981. In fact, the paper offers a range of free articles dating back to 1851. CJR regrets the error.