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Hard to get a fix

The state of corrections in Bay Area news media
A MediaBugs report -- July 2010

Trust is a news organization's most important asset, and correcting errors is a cornerstone of maintaining that trust. Yet today the websites of most news organizations in the Bay Area are falling down on the most basic of news-media jobs: They make it difficult for the public to report mistakes in the news and track published corrections.

The results of MediaBugs' first survey of Bay Area media correction practices show that 21 out of 28 news sites examined -- including many of the region's leading daily newspapers and broadcast news outlets -- provide no corrections link on their websites' home pages and article pages. The websites for 17 of the 28 news organizations examined have no corrections policy or substantive corrections content at all.

Sites that do offer corrections-related content frequently make it relatively difficult to find: It is located two or three obscure clicks into the site, or requires visitors to use the site's search function. Once located, the corrections content is, in most cases, poorly organized and not easily navigated.

MediaBugs intends this survey both to highlight these problems and to encourage news organizations to fix them. The good news is that the improvements required to right this situation aren't difficult to make. As a companion to this study, we offer MediaBugs' recommended best practices in error reporting and corrections.

The following survey, though not complete, covers a wide sampling of the significant news organizations headquartered in or regularly covering the Bay Area. We conducted initial research in November 2009 and reviewed, revised and updated all our findings in early July 2010. We plan on revisiting these results periodically to track changes.

In many cases, news organizations that publish both in print and on the Web handle the corrections process much more effectively in print than online. We attribute this to the relative immaturity of online publishing; print has simply had more time to develop better error-correction policies and practices. Our survey concentrates on the online realm because it represents the likely future of news delivery -- and right now correction-handling there is in such worse shape.

We also recognize that many online-only news sites, particularly smaller outfits and blogs, rely informally on comments threads to provide an informal feedback loop for readers to report errors.

Finally, we've tried to conduct our research for this report thoroughly and accurately, but if we've made a mistake regarding a news organization and its correction practices, tell us about it! You can report an error to us here, or post a comment about this survey here.

-- Mark Follman and Scott Rosenberg

  • ONLINE/PRINT

San Francisco Examiner

The newspaper's website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

We searched for "correction" and "corrections" using the site's search function, and the only results were corrections published for Associated Press wire stories that ran on sfexaminer.com.

The site's contact page has an email form and editorial staff listings containing individual phone numbers and email addresses.

San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate.com

The Chronicle goes further than many other Bay Area newspapers to highlight corrections, but its efforts to guide readers to its error-correction process and corrected stories are hampered by the confusing patchquilt of options its website provides.

The newspaper's SFGate website carries a link labeled "corrections" in the footer of its home page and every article page. The link takes readers to a page containing a brief corrections policy. A link on this page offers to provide readers with a list of recent corrections.

That link, which has been added since our initial research in November, takes readers to a search results page -- the same page you'd get by typing "corrections" into the site's search tool, asking for results from the previous 30 days. A visit to the page on 6/30/10 provided 844 results — a mix of SFGate articles, wire service stories and other syndicated content. Most of the results on the page were for Associated Press and Bloomberg News wire stories.

The search results included some articles that had never been corrected but contained the word "correct" in their text; examples include this Jon Carroll column and this editorial.

The four-paragraph corrections policy advises readers to submit correction requests to the feedback@sfgate.com email address. The site also has a separate feedback form and contact us page, neither of which offers any guidance for submitting error reports or requests for corrections.

If you click through the search results to a standalone correction note you find a boilerplate text -- apparently identical to the one that's printed in the paper -- inviting readers to write or call the Chronicle office or send email to corrections@sfchronicle.com. Here is one recent example. These notices do not link back to the original story. Original story pages that have been corrected do make a note of the correction but don't link to the correction notice -- so readers of the story itself don't have any information about what, exactly, was fixed or changed, and can't easily find out.

San Jose Mercury News

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. The Mercury News does publish a corrections policy, guidelines and archive, but they are difficult to find.

To find the corrections policy, readers have to click on an Ethics Policy link at the bottom of the home page and scroll down through a lengthy text.

The corrections archive and guidelines are also difficult to find. Readers have to click on the site map link and find a corrections link on an unalphabetized, apparently unordered list of about 200 links. Or they can visit the help/contact us link in the page footer, scroll down to a link to the contact us page, and scroll down several screenfuls of text to find a brief paragraph about corrections, which finally provides a "corrections@mercurynews.com" email address for reporting errors, and a link to an archive of past corrections.

The most recent correction published appears atop this page, followed by a list of links, in reverse chronological order, to daily corrections postings from approximately three months prior. These links all have a generic header ("Setting the Record Straight") and the date they were published; readers must click through to find out the subject of the story. Each of these links takes readers to a brief correction notice, but the notices do not link back to the original story that was corrected.

Oakland Tribune

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

A search for "correction(s)" using the site's search function turns up a couple of sporadic corrections postings, but the results are mixed in with other news stories containing the term(s), and numerous published corrections to Associated Press wire stories.

The contact us page contains an extensive directory of newsroom staff, with names, phone numbers and email info, but no information about where to go or what to do to report an error.

 Contra Costa Times

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find a corrections policy or guidelines.

The FAQ page linked off the site navigation bar tells readers they can report errors via the contact us page, but the link to that page is broken. The actual contact us page, linked from the footer on all site pages, provides a full staff e-mail list but no guidance on where to report errors.

The newspaper provides a fairly thorough corrections archive, but it is difficult to locate. Readers must find it via an alphabetized corrections link on a site map listing that's accessed via the header and footer of site pages. The archive page lists approximately two dozen corrections, dating back roughly two months, in a condensed and readable format. Individual corrections notices do not link back to the original story.

There are no guidelines for reporting an error or contact information on this corrections page.

Marin Independent Journal

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find a corrections archive.

A search for "correction(s)" using the site's search function turns up a few sporadic corrections by daily posting, but those results are mixed in with numerous news stories containing the term. In a search conducted on 6/30/10, the most recent daily corrections posting to turn up was from May 2009 (the same result we got in November 2009).

Individual daily corrections postings found via search do contain a brief statement of corrections policy, with contact information. This appears to be the only way readers can find this corrections info on the site.

The contact us page has info for reaching the newsroom, but no specific instructions for reporting errors.

Wall Street Journal (San Francisco Bay Area section)

In terms of corrections, the Journal makes no distinction between its local Bay Area section and its overall news operation. A corrections link in the footer of Journal pages directs readers to a page titled "Corrections & Amplifications" containing the corrections posted by the WSJ from the same day.

Finding a more comprehensive WSJ corrections archive is more difficult. In the sidebar of the daily corrections page you find a Recent Corrections link pointing to a search results page and another similar header link to Corrections. This page contains a list of corrections published by the Journal covering approximately the past three months.

The WSJ.com site map page has a link labeled "corrections" under the "Search & Resources" section, but it is broken at the time of this writing.

We were unable to find any corrections policy or guidelines on the site. The Journal Help and Information Center offers a variety of email addresses and phone numbers for "comments and feedback" to the newsroom but no guidance for readers to report errors.

Bay Citizen

(Note: The Bay Citizen launched in May 2010; in addition to publishing on its website, the organization provides content for the Bay Area Report of the New York Times, in print and online, twice weekly. The following reflects research from early July 2010.)

The site has a link to a corrections policy page in the footer of its home and story pages advising readers who wish to report errors to email corrections@baycitizen.org.

As of July 9, there were no corrections listed on the corrections page.

New York Times -- Bay Area Report

The New York Times makes no distinctions in terms of corrections between its Bay Area Report and its main website. (Also see the Bay Citizen above, which in June began providing the majority of its content.)

A corrections link in the Times page footer directs readers to a page containing corrections posted by the NYT, by section, from the same day. These corrections contain links to the corrected stories. The bottom of the page has corrections guidelines and contact information, including for the public editor.

We were unable to find any corrections archive on the NYT website. There appears to be no direct access to past corrections content beyond the daily corrections page, which can be found for recent past editions by visiting the Today's Paper page for any particular date's newspaper and then finding the "corrections" link in the headline list.

SF Bay Guardian

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive. A masthead/contact us link in the page footer provides basic contact information.

A search for "correction(s)" on 7/2/10 with the site search function turned up a few recent results for articles containing the term in the comments sections (for example, this and this).

(Also turned up in the above search: a blog post by Guardian publisher Bruce Brugmann about a difficult experience he had getting an error corrected -- in another publication.)

SF Weekly

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive. The page footer offers links to a "Problems with the site?" form and an About Us page that links to a full staff listing.

A search for "correction(s)" on 7/2/10 with the site search function turned up a few articles and calendar listings containing the term, but no published corrections.

East Bay Express

In November 2009 the East Bay Express had a corrections link placed prominently on its home page; as we write this in July 2010, there is no longer any corrections link on the site's home and article pages.

We were unable to find a corrections policy or guidelines on the site. The Express does provide a corrections archive, but it's only accessible in a roundabout way. A search for "corrections" turns up published corrections posted on a weekly basis. At the bottom of these individual corrections pages, readers will find a small box titled "Latest in Corrections," which links to a fuller archive of corrections, posted in reverse chronological order.

The site provides a "report a problem" form that offers help relating to "the operation of our Web site," and About Us and Contact Us pages provide contact details, but no guidance for reporting errors.

San Francisco Business Times

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

A search for "correction(s)" with the site search function turned up dozens of articles containing the term in their text, but only one actual correction, from late 2008.

The site's about the paper page has a message from the publisher soliciting general feedback, and includes full contact information.

Mother Jones

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

A search for "correction(s)" on 7/8/10 turned up a couple of items with "Correction:" in the headline. (Here's an example of a blog post corrected this way.) We also found one recent story with a correction notice at the bottom.

The contact us page offers several options for feedback.

Wired

The site's footer links to an unusually thorough corrections archive, organized chronologically in order from 2004. Each entry has linked headlines (to the original articles), and the content of the correction also appears at the end of each original article page.

There is no corrections policy on this page or contact information for reporting an error.

The contact us page has an email form for providing general feedback, and offers several categories for classifying feedback, but no choice for reporting an error.

SF Public Press

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We found no corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

A search for "correction(s)" on 7/2/10 turned up two results: an article containing the term in its text, and an article with an actual correction appended at the end.

The site provides extensive contact and masthead information.

  • ONLINE ONLY

Salon

The site's footer has a link to a corrections page and policy. The policy tells readers to report errors via e-mail, and provides a link pointing to another page offering guidelines for sending letters to the editor.

The corrections policy is followed by an extensive archive, organized by calendar year, listing corrections notices with links to the corrected stories. [Full disclosure: Both authors of this study are former Salon editors.]

SF Appeal

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive.

A recent search for "correction(s)" on 7/2/10 with the site search function turned up several pages of results, mostly articles or blog posts with the term in their texts, and a couple with corrections posted on the articles. The "Contact" page solicits tips and general feedback by phone, text message, IM or email.

OaklandLocal

The website contains no corrections link on its home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive. A search on the site for "correction" provides a number of examples of small fixes to articles, most of them reported by readers in the site's comment threads. 

The site has extensive masthead information and contact info, including email addresses and an email form for feedback.

CNET News

The site has no corrections link on its home page at CNET.com, but the footer to every page on its News.com news site provides a corrections link, which points to a corrections policy and archive. The policy advises readers with errors to report to "please contact the article's writer, who may be reached via email by clicking on the story byline. You may also write the appropriate editor, listed on our staff page." The archive is organized in reverse chronological order; each entry has links back to the original articles and the content of the correction appearing at the end of each article.

  • BROADCAST NEWS -- TV AND RADIO

We surveyed the websites of five local television and three radio stations, all of which contain extensive news content. In television: KTVU 2, KRON 4, CBS 5, KGO 7 and KNTV 11. In radio: KQED 88.5, KALW 91.7 and KCBS 740AM/106.9FM.

The websites for all eight of these stations contain no corrections link on their home and article pages. We were unable to find any corrections policy, guidelines or archive on any of the websites.

Searching for "correction(s)" with each site's search function produced no useful results, with the exception of KQED, whose search function returned a few sporadic results with corrections (here's one recent example). We did not survey the on-air correction practices of these news outlets.

In varying ways, all of these websites provide general contact information (mailing addresses, phone numbers and email) and guidelines for general feedback, including things like news tips and editorial comments. None has a specific channel for reporting errors, with the exception of KNTV 11: On its contact us page, the NBC affiliate has guidelines for general feedback followed by an email form; the form provides a drop-down menu for users to categorize their messages, and one of the choices offered is for "editorial error."

See also: MediaBugs' guide to best practices in error reporting and corrections

Post/read comments about this survey