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The Wrong Stuff

Correction practices at major news sites are a mess, survey finds

No mistakes ever? Fox provides no channel to report errors.

By Mark Follman and Scott Rosenberg

When newsroom leaders explain what sets them apart from the sea of new competitors they face today, the list usually starts with "We correct our mistakes."

This commitment is usually sincere. But it's not reflected in the websites their organizations run. Today, if you visit these sites, the odds are you will receive little useful information about where and how to report errors, and you will have to dig around to find current and past correction notices, if they are accessible at all.

MediaBugs' first survey of national media correction practices examined the websites of 40 major newsrooms, including those of five leading cable TV news networks, from New York to Los Angeles. We also examined the websites of a dozen leading national magazines. (For details on any individual media outlet, just browse the list here.)

We found that of the websites of 35 leading daily newspapers we examined, 25 provide no link to a corrections page or archive of current and past corrections on their websites' home pages and article pages. Only about half, 17 of the 35, provide a corrections policy of any kind (which we define broadly as any explicit statement regarding corrections practices). Sixty percent of the newspaper sites (21 of 35) do provide an explicit channel (email, phone, or Web form) for the public to report an error to the newsroom. However, in most cases this information isn't prominent or easy to find.

The sites that do offer corrections-related content frequently bury it, in many cases requiring visitors to use the site's search function. If you can find it, this information is often poorly organized and not easily navigated.

The websites of the five cable news networks we surveyed performed somewhat better. MSNBC, CNBC and ESPN all provide more thorough corrections content. CNN has an email form for reporting errors, but no corrections page or policy.

Fox News is the exception in the group. Apparently the Fox network never makes errors. We found no corrections content at all on its website.

Our survey of the websites of a dozen leading news and culture magazines yielded mostly dismal results. Of the 12 websites examined, only one (Wired) provided a corrections link on its pages. None of the 12 provided a corrections policy. Only one (Rolling Stone) provided an email address for reporting an error to the publication. Most of the sites contained little or no corrections content.

The above results, based on research from August to October 2010, are similar to what we found with our first survey earlier this year, which examined corrections practices at Bay Area media websites.

As with that survey, we have focused on the online realm because it represents the likely future of news delivery -- and right now, correction-handling there is far behind where it should be. (We did not survey the print correction practices of this group, nor the on-air practices of the cable networks.)

The good news is that the improvements required to right this situation aren't difficult to make, as we describe in MediaBugs' recommended best practices for error reporting and corrections.

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 over on our blog.

[Posted 11/08/10.]