Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Come correct

I've never had a correction.

*Knocks on wood*

I've never had a correction, and that's probably because I haven't had to report a great deal of stories that require me to fetch multi-layered, complex information. I'll get back to that.

Because in high school, I didn't see what the big deal was about a correction. So, you got something wrong in a story. Big deal.

Michael Holley, then of the Boston Globe, pretty much told me that because I'm African-American and a male that I had to be extra careful. Check everything. Three times.

"Here's the deal about corrections," he told me, chomping a ketchup-drenched french-fry at T. Anthony's in Boston. "With each one, you lose your credibility as a journalist. And all you have as a journalist is your credibility."

I'm 23 and I have never, to my knowledge, so much as spelled a person's name wrong in a story. Does this mean I'm overdue? I was pondering that thought this afternoon while reporting a story about an East Quogue, NY resident who makes birdhouses and signs out of salvaged materials from demolished houses. He mentioned rackling some materials from a mansion that I can't say for sure has ever existed on Long Island, save for a few random allusions that come up when you do a Google search. I wasn't satisfied.

My paper's (you can guess what paper that is by now, no?) library told me to take a look at a book called The Mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast. I looked on the book's accompanying website and still didn't find it.

I had the perfect, or perhaps, imperfect formula: relying upon local histories and a bad Google search. I wasn't willing to chance it, especially when I know that there are niche experts hanging around who recite the names of these things at wine tastings in the Hamptons for fun. Show me a correction and I'll show you a shaky foundation, source or story idea.

In the past I would have taken the entire graf in question out before my editor ever saw it. That habit probably has something to do with why I have never had a correction run that I was responsible for. But I'm going to report this one out. Why?

I've come to think a correction can serve as a rite of passage, and whether you've had one or not, going around trying to avoid them isn't going to make you a better reporter. (Let the church say -- ) But, then I read this quote from Don Wycliff, formerly Public Editor of the Chicago Tribune. And I have second thoughts.

"We had some disagreement about how to treat corrections, about how to handle reporters that make [a] number of errors," he said in comment published on Poynter.org, in which he then did what is known as keeping it real: "If you make more than your share of corrections, no matter who you are, you're in deep shit."

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Posted by Darren Sands at 4:05 PM | link

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That's a pretty good record to have, Sands. Wish I could say the same.

But, contrary to what you said, I don't think it comes from lazy reporting. I think it just comes from being human (and sometimes, sloppy or tired or hurried or whatever). And sometimes, it just comes from bad luck. I've had errors edited into my stories. Stories that I've checked and triple checked, only to have a random fact incorrectly inserted.

Sucks. But it happens.

I don't make a habit of it, but I don't beat myself up over it either. I do my best to correct it and then I do my best to make sure it doesn't happen again. Really, that's all you can do.

Posted by Blogger T Dot @ 10:08 PM, July 10, 2007 #

I've heard that lots of "corrections" go unnoticed. The easiest way to hide information is to put it in a book or in a newspaper...at least that's what "they" say.

I can't say that I've ever had to make a correction on any stories that I've had published, either. But there is a first time for everything.

And I agree with Talia: we humans, under the pressures of filling an entire paper with minimal writers on staff, are finding less and less time to toil over these sorts of details.

I think it speaks to a larger problem in our industry. How much of the story are we not telling out of a fear of getting it wrong and having to make a correction? How much are we leaving out because we simply don't have the time?

Posted by Blogger Aaron Morrison @ 10:57 AM, July 11, 2007 #

Great post.

At 23, I'm guessing you've never had your heart broken either, but you really should go through both. You'll be a better person and journalist for it.

It'll happen. Don't believe me? What if I told you that you spelled "multi" wrong in this very post?

So when you do eventually get that first correction (and, yes, it'll happen), you will be mortified, horrified, and want to die a thousand deaths.

If you're lucky.

If you don't feel that way, you should probably get out of the business.

The truth is, you should go home everyday asking yourself, "Did I spell his name right? Did I really have that quote? And I know that's what he said, but is that what he really meant?"

The day we stop giving a damn about getting it right or about what happens when we get it wrong is the day we need to pack up our desks and start looking for a new way to earn a payday.

It's cliche, but the rare corrections does build character.

Posted by Anonymous hizzle @ 4:58 PM, July 12, 2007 #

Corrections do happen...the thing is not to make too many of them in too short of a time period.

Great post.

Posted by Blogger spchrist @ 9:50 PM, July 30, 2007 #
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