Time to tally corrections, maybe re-evaluate policy

At the end of every year, I provide The Star’s editor with a count of the corrections and clarifications that ran in the paper during the previous 12 months. Readers and journalists alike have an interest in seeing those numbers go down from year to year.

In 2010, The Star published an even 300 corrections in the print edition, out of around 41,000 separate stories. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. Photographs, captions, graphics and other informational items don’t figure into that 41,000 figure, but they do sometimes generate corrections.

By comparison, 2009 saw 383 corrections out of about 46,000 stories. Even when adjusting for the differences in story count, the percentages follow a downward trend.

Of course, I’m under no illusions that each and every mistake in the paper results in a correction. I’m sure readers sometimes spot errors and don’t have the time or the inclination to pick up the phone or send e-mail to let me know what’s wrong.

I especially hate it when someone alerts me to an error catch in one of the comments users append to the bottom of stories on KansasCity.com — not because I don’t want to know what’s wrong, but because online comments simply aren’t a good way to communicate with The Star. There are literally thousands of separate news items posted to the site every week, and neither I nor anyone else could possibly read through every comment posted there by Web readers.

That’s really too bad, because setting the record straight is a basic tenet of professional journalism, and I can say honestly that nobody in the newsroom has ever pressured me not to run a correction.

However, all errors aren’t equal, and there are some instances where I just don’t think the mistake merits a separate correction. For example, The Star has misspelled the last name of entertainer Penn Jillette, one half of the comedy and magic duo Penn and Teller, as “Gillette” on a handful of occasions over the years. “Friends” and “Cougar Town” star Courteney Cox’s first name has lost its unusual first “e” from time to time too.

In these cases, the vast majority of which were passing mentions, I would consider a stand-alone correction noted on Page A2 overkill.

Getting a worldwide celebrity’s name wrong is more akin to misspelling “inoculate” than to flubbing a local student’s name in a story about her academic accomplishments. In the latter case, a correction would be in order.

I’ve sometimes considered the idea of separating significant factual errors from more mundane, often mechanical mistakes, such as the correction to an erroneous TV program listing that ran on Jan. 8.

Would readers benefit from categorizing the corrections? Or might such a system run the danger of making The Star look defensive? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This column was originally published in the Kansas City Star on Jan. 8, 2011.
Comments are closed.