Guess which media company this person works for:
We have six domestic networks, a major magazine, a heavily trafficked website and some of most trafficked and downloaded mobile apps, and a national radio network with hundreds of affiliates.
Still guessing? How about if I told you that they are, as far as I can tell, the only cross-platform media organization with a centralized corrections policy and process that covers TV, radio, print, and online?
This company also airs what may be the only TV show that ends each broadcast by listing and correcting all of the errors made by the hosts during the episode.
One more hint: a trademark of the show is this phrase, “Good night, Canada.”
The sports fans out there probably have the answer. The unidentified media conglomerate is ESPN, the show that features corrections is Pardon the Interruption, and the speaker quoted above is Patrick Stiegman, the vice president and executive editor and producer of ESPN.com.
“There is a lot of moving parts,” he told me, “and [we have] an audience of more than 100 million people who consume some level of ESPN media per week. We owe it to them to be as open and forthright as possible.”
Stiegman and I first spoke three-and-a-half years ago when I wrote about what was then ESPN’s brand new cross-platform corrections policy. The policy covered all the mediums in which ESPN works, and the organization also set up an omnibus online corrections page to house all corrections, regardless of the originating medium. This was an important development, as no other news organization had created a corrections policy that worked across a variety of mediums, while centralizing the corrections reporting process.
I wrote at the time that ESPN’s corrections framework should “serve as notice to all the ‘hard news’ organizations out there who haven’t deemed it necessary to create an online corrections page … Perhaps this will spur them into action.”
Well, no such luck. As noted above, ESPN remains, as far as I’m aware, the only cross-platform news/information organization that has put this level of thought and effort into a corrections policy and procedure. I had hoped that other multi-platform news organizations would follow suit, or at least raise their corrections game. The best news I can report—and it is good news—is that MSNBC.com’s corrections page is often home to corrections issued for NBC Nightly News, Today, and other NBC programs. However, ESPN does a better job of getting its on air personalities to issue corrections during or at the end of broadcasts.
I got back in touch with Stiegman because ESPN’s corrections page was recently home to a correction for a tweet sent by NFL Insider Adam Schefter (as well as a notable clarification regarding a controversial LeBron James story):
In a Sept. 1 Twitter posting from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that appeared on ESPN.com’s NFL page, a report that Byron Westbrook had been released by the Washington Redskins was incorrect. Westbrook remains with the Redskins.
This suggests that ESPN has kept its corrections policy and procedures up to date. (Once again: eat your heart out, news organizations.)
“We didn’t amend our policy to say specifically that we are going to address tweets,” Stiegman told me. “What we decided, and this is consistent with our existing policy, is if we make an error in content that appears in our platform we need to correct them … Adam’s tweet showed up right on our NFL home page on ESPN.com so it was no different than if it had appeared in a news story or blurb or on air commentary or blog.”
Stiegman said ESPN has a social media policy that sets out guidelines for “forward-facing talent” such as on air personalities who use social media. It covers their activities when they talk about anything related to sports. (He admitted that the social media policy initially “set the standard a little higher than we needed to be in terms or restricting people.” For some background on that statement, read this article.)
Overall, he said, ESPN hasn’t had to overhaul its corrections policy; rather, it’s been a process of updates and additions.
“[The corrections policy] is a great device that made everybody more cognizant of the fact that we are trying to be open and transparent with our audience,” he said. “… The bottom line is I think it served us very well to date. Our people are more cognizant of trying to correct mistakes and trying to minimize mistakes, and overall the audience is better served because if you happen to see error on air or elsewhere you should be able to find [a correction] on a page on our site.”
Given the ever-growing, cross-platform nature of ESPN’s operations, it seems like a daunting task for the organization to create a viable workflow for corrections. (After all, The Washington Post was unable to effectively manage its corrections process, and it mainly has to worry abut web and print.) So what’s ESPN’s secret?
Step one was having senior people like Stiegman involved in the creation and internal promotion of the corrections process and procedures. That set the tone and told people, “This is important.”
The organization also benefits from a centralized editorial workflow that enables it to feed consistent information and reporting across multiple platforms. This ensures corrections get to the right place.
Apart from that, two senior editors are responsible for receiving and investigating any corrections requests submitted by the ESPN community. They write and publish corrections, and distribute them through the centralized news desk to make sure they end up wherever the error first appeared.
“We get a steady flow of submissions from our audience,” Stiegman said. “When we first launched with the corrections page, we got a big uptick. Probably now we get twenty-five or so submissions a week, and of those probably less than five on average are things we feel were incorrect. A lot of submissions for corrections are people who are challenging commentary.”
ESPN also uses an internal database to track of correction requests and any resulting fixes.
“I have a master database … and I have the ability to track and know exactly how many corrections are run by platform, by show, by section of the website,” he said.
Yes, it’s quite the corrections operation. I asked Stiegman if he thinks his colleagues at ABC News should follow the lead of the sports guys and get serious about corrections.
“I would tell each entity its their choice of how to handle it for their organization,” he said, not taking my bait, “but in a macro sense, I do think being more transparent is better than not.”
Correction of the Week
“Daryush Parsi’s support for women’s tennis player Aravane Rezai, whom he first saw play at the 2010 U.S. Open, is based on their shared Iranian heritage. An item in the Sept. 1 Open Racket column about fans who seek to become suitors incorrectly included Mr. Parsi, who is married, and incorrectly implied his motivation for giving the player a T-shirt.” – The Wall Street Journal