Just say you're sorry

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When you make mistakes, that is.  As the Best Practices text conveyed, errors in general, factual and grammatical, can hurt the reputation of an entire paper if they are in abundance, and moreover, if they paper refuses or seems reluctant to correct them.  Although this section of the reading went into great detail on the Chicago Tribune's approach to eliminating errors at their paper and their successful turnaround, it shows that ultimately perfection will never be attainable.  Rather than covering up mistakes, however, a paper should strive to fess up to their mistakes.  In the following section on corrections the authors say that:

"...the public see it quite another way. They say they understand that reporters have to work very hard and fast under pressure, and they acknowledge that is not a system likely to produce protection." (13)

Thus it is a cycle: inevitable mistakes may hurt a paper's reputation, but admitting the wrong repairs the paper’s reputation.

As a personal example of the detrimental effects of newspaper errors, I'll cite the front page picture and caption that accompanied what at the time, about 7 years ago, was a major story for my local, small-town paper.  The front page story was about how a local, successful, family owned restaurant burnt to the ground over night.  The family was well-known and popular in the community, and the owner's daughters attended the local high school.  The picture that accompanied the paper's story showed one of the daughters and a random on-looker watching the building burn.  However, while the random guy was identified in full detail, the owner's daughter was identified as an "unknown on-looker" (or something generic like that).  In such a small community, that was a major flub since everyone knew who it was; it made the writer, and by extension the paper, look completely unprofessional.  However, I can't place all the blame on the paper because I never did check to see what, if any, correction was made. 

But I do think my example shows how a seemingly "simple" mistake can stick in the minds of readers for a long a time.

 

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1 Comments

Shannon Moskal said:

I agree that newspapers need to own up to their mistakes. To err is human and the public knows that journalists are on a time crunch. Admitting mistakes can only make them look that much more professional. If I were interviewing a reporter, I would be impressed if I knew he/she had reported a mistake. IF let go, mistakes could mushroom and blow up in the paper's face, especially if other media is the first to notice. Honesty is the best policy

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