Just over two months ago, shares of UAL, the parent company of United Airlines, fell by as much as 76 percent. The root cause of the drop in price was a Chicago Tribune article published on the website of Florida’s Sun-Sentinel that reported United was filing for bankruptcy. Eventually, the story found its way onto Google News, where it was cited by an analyst firm in a news alert. That alert was subsequently picked up and distributed by Bloomberg. Then the sell-off of September 8 began.

There was one major problem with the story: it was from 2002. United wasn’t going into bankruptcy.

The Sun-Sentinel soon admitted that a story from its archives had mistakenly been republished to its Web site without including the original 2002 date. This caused the article to top the site’s “Popular Stories Business: Most Viewed” list. (You can view a screenshot of the story here.) The paper blamed Google News for treating the story as new, which was what caused the Googling analyst at Income Securities Advisors to do the same. Bloomberg was also chastised for distributing “content provided by non-journalist sources — such as Income Securities Advisors — without having an editor vet the material first…”

Erroneous reports can be easily distributed (and re-distributed) in the Internet age. Corrections from this week also show that’s it’s common to see an old story make headlines years after the fact.

This week the Associated Press issued a correction after a story about layoffs at Citigroup cited IBM as another example of a company shedding jobs. Unfortunately, IBM’s record cuts happened back in 1993. MSNBC.com carried the initial report and followed up with this correction:

An Associated Press story about Citigroup layoffs published Nov. 18 erroneously said IBM Corp. cut 60,000 jobs in July. The record cut by IBM was in July 1993. IBM has had no mass layoffs this year. The corrected story has been republished.

The same scenario played out with the AP and MSNBC.com back in 2005:

On June 28, we published a story with the headline “U.S. cybersecurity chief abruptly resigns.” The resignation of Amit Yoran occurred in October 2004 and we inadvertently republished an Associated Press report on the resignation.

This week also saw another example of the “everything old is new again” phenomenon. Here’s a correction from the The Avalanche-Journal of Lubbock, Texas:

Thursday’s edition of The Avalanche-Journal contained one-year-old obituaries, which were inadvertently reprinted.

We are taking steps to ensure that this mistake does not occur again.

The A-J deeply regrets any inconvenience our error may have caused for the families of the persons’ obituaries that were to have appeared on Thursday.

We also sincerely regret the renewed grief that may have been experienced by those whose loved ones died a year ago.

An archive is a wonderful thing. But archives without proper controls are a correction—or sell-off—waiting to happen.

Correction of the Week

“In a Nov. 14 story about German Green Party politician Cem Ozdemir, The Associated Press incorrectly reported an anecdote that he uses to illustrate a cultural difference between Germans and Turks.

In the anecdote, Ozdemir recounts entering a sauna in Turkey to find a group of naked German men. He starts talking to them and loosens his towel in accordance with German custom. When an older German-Turkish man enters wearing a towel, as is Turkish custom, Ozdemir said he put his towel back. After he put his towel back on, the man told Ozdemir that he had been right to follow German custom.

The AP story erroneously quoted Ozdemir as having said that the incident involved a naked German woman walking into the sauna.” – Associated Press

Apologies of the Week

“In our edition of October 29, The Melbourne Times front cover was a digitally altered photograph depicting an aeroplane flying towards the Rialto Towers. The picture used was not an actual photograph of an aeroplane in the vicinity of any building, but rather, an image that had been digitally altered. Normally, when digitally altered pictures are used, The Melbourne Times acknowledges this. This time, a production error meant the acknowledgement did not appear. The Melbourne Times also accepts that the image may have caused some distress or anxiety among readers who may have assumed that the Rialto Towers had been, or were likely to be, the subject of a terrorist attack. This is not true. The Melbourne Times apologises for any distress that use of the image may have caused. The image will not be used again.” – Melbourne Times

“On the first page of the Business section of Sunday’s Post-Gazette we printed an article about Stanley Druckenmiller and his company Duquesne Capital Management. The article included headlines that suggested that the funds which Mr. Druckenmiller and Duquesne Capital manage had suffered significant losses and that Mr. Druckenmiller had been “sacked” and “took it on the chin” in the financial markets. Unfortunately, the author of the article did not check the accuracy of the facts with Mr. Druckenmiller or Duquesne Capital. According to Mr. Druckenmiller and other published reports, all of the funds managed by him and that organization have had positive returns for the year. In addition, the headlines that accompanied the story were, in hindsight, misleading and did not reflect the more qualified points made in the story itself. Simply put, we did not adhere to our own standards. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Druckenmiller and Duquesne Capital for these lapses.” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Parting Shot

“In a Nov. 6 story about AC/DC, the Associated Press erroneously quoted producer Brendan O’Brien as saying the band’s music was aggressive in a way that’s catchy and ‘hokey.’ The word he actually used was ‘hooky,’ which is music-industry parlance for a song full of irresistible refrains, or ‘hooks.’” – Associated Press