There was a study done in the United States—it’s over a decade old now—that found that newspaper readers who saw corrections on a regular basis actually felt better about their paper than readers who didn’t see corrections on a regular basis. Because they saw there was some kind of accountability measure in place.
I think that’s true. One of the things we’re pushing for this year [is for] newspapers to be more visible about their adherence to the Code and the existence of the PCC. It’s for the same reason that if you tell your readers there is a system by which editors can be held accountable, ultimately they may feel more comfortable they can trust in the product they are reading.
In terms of online, we are working on getting some kind of online mark so the paper can say, “We adhere to the code of practice, which is enforced by the PCC.” In a world where everything is on the Internet and there is this fast, sort of horizontal dissemination of information coming from everywhere, this voluntary acceptance of a third party examining your work will be seen as a benefit, and a way of developing trust with readers.
How has the growth of online changed things? When you negotiate a correction or apology, there’s the print aspect, but what about online? Do you get involved in that?
The PCC last year set up an online working group in one of its commissions to constantly be looking at online issues, and one area they are looking at and considering the issue of guidance on is online prominence. Because if you have an issue where something appeared on page nine in the paper, there is a strong argument that the correction should appear on page nine. With online, all sorts of things come into play. Should you link to the original article? Should you remove the article? Should it be stand-alone? Should it be on the home page? What if the URL has the inaccuracy in it? Should that be amended?
We’re looking towards issuing some type of guidance on that to say, “Here are the facts.” It’s not as quite straightforward because people access papers in different ways online … It’s an area we will all become more expert in as the years go by, but for now we want to make sure these factors are considered at the point of negotiation.
At this point it’s kind of scattershot, isn’t it? I see a lot of U.K. newspapers that will completely remove the offending article and replace it, or replace the article with an apology but keep the URL as the old URL.
Yes, and you’ve got to respect the wishes of the complainant. They are sometimes reluctant to remove [offending articles] entirely and if the article is particularly intrusive then often the remedy they are seeking is removal from the website. What we do at the PCC is on our website we publish all of the resolved cases, making clear what actually has happened. That is another way of getting it into public domain that action was taken.
In a recent post from Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, he wrote that there is “new-found determination [at the PCC] to publicize its work.” Is that true?
I don’t know if it’s entirely newfound. But we are certainly emphasizing it more. We have 1,500 followers on Twitter and I like the idea that people can be updated with the work that we’ve done. We did some focus groups recently and people tend to be reassured if they know an organization exists and is doing these things
We have a responsibility to make people aware of the system, and that we are there to help them. The basic function of the PCC is to be a public service, so they need to know about us to use it more effectively. So we are conscious of the need to push ourselves out there, and Twitter is a good way of doing that.
Going back to online, you have a commission looking at the issue; is there an expectation they will come out with recommendations or guidelines?