Patterico's Pontifications

9/1/2006

Making Corrections as Prominent as the Original Error — What a Concept!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:52 pm



Remember that guy I told you about who said:

My mistake was that I trusted a respected newspaper; I should have checked the facts.

. . . .

Again, I am so sorry that I was unwittingly involved in misrepresenting your organisation. I am upset with the Los Angeles Times for putting me in this position, and they have refused to admit their error in public, which is disappointing.

The editors of the L.A. Times did admit their error eventually, of course — but not very prominently. The Los Angeles Downtown News has more. (H/t Tenacious G.) The L.A. Downtown News piece starts off with a very shaky assertion:

The Los Angeles Times is one of the best newspapers in the country.

Ugh. But it quickly rises above that questionable beginning:

But it made a big mistake when, on the cover of the July 30 Current section, it printed incorrect and injurious information about the Central City East Association. The error was made even worse by the paper’s lack of an adequate public explanation and apology.

As Los Angeles Downtown News reported last week, the Times printed a grave error in an opinion piece written by Tom Slater, an expert on gentrification from Bristol, England. It began with the assertion that “homeless people were literally swept and hosed out of their makeshift encampments in downtown Los Angeles by employees of the local business improvement district.'” It was splashed across the cover of Current, complete with a large graphic. The display was hard to miss, even for those who don’t regularly read Current.

It turned out the line was incorrect (several other assertions in the piece have also provoked skepticism), and a week later the Times printed a retraction, though not in nearly as prominent a place as Slater’s piece appeared. But missing from the correction was information on how such an egregious error came about. Not until questions from Downtown News did the Times publicly reveal that the paper itself played a primary role in the mistake.

It’s the part about the correction not being as prominent as the original error that interests me. Here’s the harm that causes:

The lack of a public explanation on how the error occurred is troubling, but a bigger problem is that the message has certainly gotten around. This is the Internet era, and although the retraction now appears on the Times’ website, some people will never see the correction. Considering that it appeared in a prominent place in a respected newspaper, some may forever believe the error to be the truth.

The paper could fix that, of course, by placing important corrections in a space as prominent as the original error. In fact, that’s such a great idea, someone should tell the paper about it. Or has someone already . . .

3 Responses to “Making Corrections as Prominent as the Original Error — What a Concept!”

  1. The funny thing is that I will see neither the error nor the retraction. I dropped my subsrciption years ago.

    This is the problem. They lie. Perhaps they correct, but that is irrelevant, because no one reads (or few read) the correction.

    I was, long ago, the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Bruin, the student paper at UCLA. A reporter put in a story about a day long workshop and included a number of people who were there. We were challenged on the number of people. It turned out that the reporter went to one session in a day long exposition, counted the people, and used that at the number of people at the conference.

    I found out about it when the conference sponsors challenged us about our attendance statistic. I listened to the report and listened to the reporter and the editor. They asked me “don’t you trust us?” Ahh, manager but also editor and therefore at some level responsible for the truth.

    We corrected it in the standard spot — a place on page 2. No wonder the sponsors still disliked us. But how do you determine the correct method for correcting an error? A page one headline every day?

    Clavius (41f488)

  2. Read my piece. I’d demand a Page One correction for a Page One mistake.

    Patterico (91fd36)

  3. You are right. But that is not the practice. The practice is to bury corrections on page 2 because “that is how it is done.”

    The newspapers — as far as I can tell — failed to take your suggestion. That is why they are failing. Clear accountability — God knows, we all get things wrong — is the core of a truly free and accountable press.

    We have to be committed to the truth. I fear that the current environment is creating more holes for those that would abuse the truth. Hiding behind Bush hatred, etc.

    Admitting publicaly the errors is the core of credibility (which is also why blogs win on this score). But it is antithetical to those who publish paper ever day.

    Clavius (41f488)


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