Error Management in the News Media

Inspiring morning at Lugano’s Media Accountability Conference, held as part of the EU-project MediaAct: Today it’s all about corrections management.

Scott R. Maier from the University of Oregon argues that accuracy is the foundation of media credibility and that traditional news media need their user’s trust. „Online error management is not about technology, but about culture“, says Scott. From his studies, he deducts that there is not a lack of technical possibilities, but a lack of willpower towards correcting errors. „Clearly we have an accuracy problem“, he says. Scott is referring to several studies (read more e.g. at Nieman Reports), among these one he conducted with Phil Meyer (whom we could listen to in Vienna recently), finding that 60 per cent of articles had errors. The more, most of the errors go unreported, says Scott.

Implementing tools for online error management could be really easy. Scott shows some examples, among them the Report an Error Alliance or MediaBugs, and earlier we discussed Corrigo, an intriguing idea under development in Germany.

But of course, there are also simple ideas for newsrooms: The L.A. Times is using Twitter to send in corrections. The Washington Post features a Corrections Button, which opens a very simple template to report your correction. „There’s nothing fancy about it, but it gets the job done“, says Scott. (By the way, I just saw that the Post’s report on corrections also has got a correction button.) Actually, to my knowledge, no Austrian online news outlet has implemented such a simple tool yet.

However, Scott is not too optimistic, as he sees one huge problem: Denial. Even if all the research shows that errors occur frequently, U.S. journalists consider errors rare, and they are convinced that errors are corrected anyway. Thus: The technology for online error management exits, but does the mindset?

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