A website redesign is a major event for a news organization. Reuters recently unveiled a new website, and it occasioned blog posts from former editor-in-chief and current chairman of Thomson Reuters China David Schlesinger, and from Chrystia Freeland, the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital. She also introduced the #reutersrefresh hashtag to gather feedback from people.
That’s admittedly a pretty big deal for journalism geeks and Reuters’s online readers. But there was another redesign this week that earned considerably less fanfare, partly because it focused on a feature of news websites that remains largely ignored or nonexistent.
I’m referring to the fact that The New York Times changed its online corrections page. Exciting stuff, I know.
Prior to the redesign—well, perhaps “refresh” would be a more appropriate term— the page was updated daily to show that day’s corrections. It also included boilerplate text at the bottom that explained how people could report errors. That’s pretty much how the page has looked and worked since I started looking at it daily in 2004.
Then, to my surprise, it changed earlier this week.
The point of an online corrections page is to have a centralized place where readers can see the latest mistakes and corrections. It gives them the opportunity to discover if a recent article they read, or reporting they heard or saw, has been updated or corrected. It also provides a basic element of transparency. A dedicated page makes corrections more visible and accessible, and it increases the likelihood that people will receive the corrected information. After all, that’s the point of making correction in the first place. Yet corrections pages are the exception, not the rule.
Greg Brock, the Times senior editor who oversees corrections, said the refreshed page was worked on some time ago and recently received final approval to go live.
The new Times page features improvements that should be standard for any online corrections page. Rather than showing only that day’s corrections, it now links to the last seven days of corrections. The boilerplate text that provides the toll free phone number, e-mail, and fax number used to report errors is now higher up on the page. Below that, the page also lists a series of headlines and links to the most recently corrected articles. These changes make it easier to access additional recent corrections, easier to report errors, and easier to see the articles that were just corrected. The latter is increasingly important due to the pace of online news.
“As far as this tweaked Corrections link, I had complained—as had readers—that only one day of corrections was available when you clicked the link,” Brock said. “ So this change is merely to give an archive of the more recent corrections. That seemed like a basic function.”
It’s also encouraging that he said the page doesn’t constitute his vision for a true corrections homepage.
“This really isn’t a Corrections Home Page per se,” he said. “Certainly not the kind I have in mind. I have been trying to get that done forever—and we are inching toward it It would be a true Corrections Home Page—just as you find for all sections, like Sports, Business, etc.”
That sense of ambition for an online corrections page is unheard of. The reality is that most news organizations and news websites don’t offer a centralized corrections page. On the positive side of things, some of the organizations that offer a regularly updated corrections page that’s linked from the homepage include the Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post (well, kind of; see below), The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Toronto Star, the Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and the Houston Chronicle. There are others, though not many of them.
Other organizations may have corrections pages, but they are often buried within the site. Most don’t have anything resembling a corrections page. And a shocking number still don’t even add corrections to online articles. Then there are cases where corrections pages are left to collect dust or just disappear without notice.