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.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune used to have a page here. At some point over the last year or so that link went dead, and now there’s no link to a correction page on the site at least that I can find. When The Washington Post redesigned its site a few months back, it broke its old corrections URL. Now the correction link at the footer of every page and in the National drop-down menu goes to a page with an error report form. But there are no actual corrections to be found there. I’ve been unable to locate a page that lists all corrections. It seems to have disappeared. A similar thing happened at The Globe And Mail. Its homepage corrections link used to go to a page. Now it goes to an e-mail address. Where are the corrections?
As far as I can tell, NBC is the only network news operation that places corrections online, which it does on the MSNBC.com online corrections page. Unfortunately, much like The Economist’s, the page is hidden. (If I’ve missed a homepage link or otherwise made a mistake regarding an online corrections page, let me know in the comments below.)
Most news organizations either don’t bother to create a corrections page, forget about it over time, or neglect to update it properly in the case of a redesign.
The Times deserves praise for putting effort and attention into its online corrections page. That said, there are a few additions to the page that would be useful and are used by some other organizations. Brock agreed on this front, and said my recommended additions are on his radar and perhaps even on his wish list for a true corrections homepage.
One feature that should become standard on corrections pages is an error report form. (Have a look at the Chicago Tribune’s.) This makes it easier for people to report errors. It also helps ensure they provide the necessary information. Sometimes news organizations get incomplete or vague error reports (“The story about Obama has an incorrect date”).
Another helpful offering comes from the Houston Chronicle. It has an RSS feed for corrections, which helps push them out to people. No need to keep coming back to a page every day. The problem is that the Chronicle’s RSS feed isn’t offered on the corrections page. You need to go to the paper’s RSS feeds page to see that one exists.
I’d also like to see the corrections pages link to a page where readers can read the news organization’s corrections policy in order to understand more about what does and doesn’t qualify for correction.
But mostly it would be nice to see the online corrections page become a standard for all news sites.
Ironic, yes. Useful? No.
Correction of the Week
“In earlier editions of last night’s Evening Times we carried, under the headline Smoking alert for mums a story which suggested that a new report promoted smoking during pregnancy.
“In fact the report by the UCL Institute for Women’s Health supported the long-held view that smoking while pregnant significantly increases the risk of serious birth defects, including missing and deformed limbs.
“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” — Evening Times (U.K.)
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