October 19, 2004

Corrections can be a Cow

MediaCow writes…

If you run a newspaper then having a Corrections and Clarifications column can be jolly helpful – it allows minor errors to be amended at little ‘cost’. You called the pensioner on page 8 May Viscount, and her son is upset because her name is Mavis Count? No problem: it can be easily fixed.

But sometimes the space can be used to tuck away massive u-turns that should really be given more attention. In today’s Herald, the Corrections & Clarifications (not available online) contains several errors that should have been signalled in the columns or news space where the errors were made.

Let’s focus for now on just one entry:

New Zealand’s ranking in the World Economic Forum growth competitiveness index fell from 14th place last year to 18th this year. It did not rise five places as reported in the Business Herald on Friday. And New Zealand did not rise one place to 17th in the business competitiveness index, but was unchanged at 18th place.

In other words: “We mucked up the entire story”.

The Herald used a Reuters article which was correct, but at some stage incorrect local information was added.

Other papers, such as the NBR, got the news right – New Zealand had dropped in both ‘growth competitiveness’ and ‘business competitiveness’. On the positive side of the ledger, we were still in the top 20.

The correction was printed yesterday, and the online version quietly amended. But the clever fellow who updated the website story forgot to change the headline (“NZ gains, but Finland is the competitive winner”), and obviously didn’t realise that the Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive’s comments no longer make any sense (he thought New Zealand's new positioning was positive).

It’s good to be upfront about errors and it is great the Herald has a Corrections and Clarifications column. That is the right place for run-of-the-mill mistakes.

But when the error is a biggun, this not-for-the-website column can give the impression that its authors are trying to slip one past their readers.

Newspapers don’t need to indulge in ghastly ‘mea culpa’ articles every two days, but if they did give significant treatment to significant balls-ups, they would provide greater reason for reporters to avoid them in the first place.

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