Corrective Inaction

In a post last evening, Slate media critic Jack Shafer takes us into the imperfect world of printed newspapers, and specifically a topic on which this blogger previously has pontificated: when journalists make factual errors.

Mr. Shafer shares an analysis from the University of Oregon School of Journalism’s Scott Maier in which UofO researchers checked the accuracy of the news coverage of ten U.S. metropolitan newspapers — 3600 stories in all:

“Starting on an arbitrary date, researchers clipped from each newspaper every locally produced and bylined story from Page One and the metro, business, and the lifestyle sections until they had collected 400. The study culled no sports stories, opinion pieces, columns, or reviews.”

The researchers then contacted a primary source cited in the story to more deeply fact check what ended up in print. Shafer writes:

“The results might shock even the most jaded of newspaper readers. About 69 percent of the 3,600 news sources completed the survey, and they spotted 2,615 factual errors in 1,220 stories. That means that about half of the stories for which a survey was completed contained one or more errors.”

Why are we, the beleaguered PR pro, not surprised??? How often are we asked by our clients and bosses to seek (e.g., demand) corrective action?

Even if we had a reasonable case — based on facts, not innuendo or tonality — would the printed correction remedy the damage left by the original offending article? Doubtful. Worse, Maier learned that newspapers, by and large, took no action on the majority of correction requests:

“…130 of the news sources reported having asked for corrections, but their complaints elicited only four corrections.”

If there’s any consolation in all of this, it lies in the fact that ultimately most media consumers will derive their news and information from 1’s and 0’s — an environment that’s presumably easier and more instantly remediable, assuming we’re listening.