When journalists get it wrong…

When journalists get it wrong…

Media | Judette Coward-Puglisi

July 21, 2010



2 years ago my assistant, La Toya, sent a press release to a young reporter at one of the daily newspapers.


Our client, the Managing Director  of a  new  hotel,  said that the reporter had called several times for an interview that they had developed a rapport and she would be the best person to whom we should send the release. 


Typically, I would have cautioned against going with anyone new (this particular reporter had just finished her internship with the newspaper)  but this was a press release announcement  giving facts on the hotel’s progress. There were questions about its late  opening and budget overruns. 


Should have been simple enough,


Except that on the day we opened the newspaper, the press release became an article with  every single quote   ascribed to my assistant, La Toya, whose only role  was to press the send button with her email signature at the bottom for inquires.


 We were mad. The client, well, he was livid.


When we called and asked for  ( and yes after 2 days passed, demanded )  a corrected version we were told  by an obviously embarrassed reporter that the editor  said no.  La Toya’s  email address was at the bottom of the release,  this particular editor assumed (incorrectly) that  the quotes had come  from her. "Next time don’t do that," we were told.


 Everything between the client and my firm went downhill from there. I would go so far to say we lost a valuable contract  because an editor refused to admit that she got it wrong.


It’s unfortunate, but I have several  stories like that. Stories where  reporters and editors  neglect correction requests with little consequence. Where the buck stops with one person and you have little or no recourse to appeal. 



I know that minor errors  in the news  are part and parcel of  journalism with its rushed deadlines, understaffed newsrooms and sometimes an over zealous need to create a headline with more sizzle then substance.  But what happens when what is being reported is so wrong, (and I am not talking about a typo in a name or a puntuation mistake ) and the the “oh oh we blew it” is so serious that the small  square retraction box buried under the weather box  on Page 3  does not quite seem to suffice.


Scott Maier, associate professor of journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication writes  on the Poynter website" that a  better rule of thumb is needed for reporters who get  the big picture and the small facts wrong.



Here’s some  statistics from Maier’s  research  on corrections by the media.


“Industry and scholarly research have documented time and time again that errors in the news media are disturbingly common. The largest accuracy audit, a recent study that Philip Meyer and I conducted of 22 newspapers, found an error rate among the highest in seven decades of accuracy research: over 59 percent of local news and feature stories were found by news sources to have at least one error. 


"In nearly the same proportion, news sources identified ‘subjective errors’ — information considered technically correct but misleading," Maier said. 


"But these errors of meaning were what news sources found most egregious — and measurably damaging to media credibility.”


Of the people Maier  surveyed, only one in 10 informed newspapers about errors. 


“Many said they thought the inaccuracies were inconsequential. But some wondered why they should bother reporting errors and assumed newspapers wouldn’t respond. When asked to review stories for accuracy, news sources found factual errors in about every other news and feature story.”



I am not sure what the answers are:  opportunities for the wronged party to  give another view of the story, a corrected headline that circumvents the wrong one, deleting an article  if published on the web, tying correction rates to performance evaluations of reporters. Or may be it really lies in taking the time to recheck  the work sentence by sentence, and thereafter  hold reporters and editors accountable for mistakes. 


 We hold  journalists to a higher standard than most other professionals.  We are told, and know it is human to err but I think when newsrooms refuse to admit error, when they set themselves up to be the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong, true or false, that’s when the very foundation of  begins to crumble.



2 thoughts on “When journalists get it wrong…

  1. First, did you not the release make it clear whom the info was coming from, as in "The CEO said….”

    Newspapers always want to know who is the source of the info and if there is only one name on the paper, you are opening the door to unnecessary errors.

    Second, what would have been so difficult in saying the quotes in such and such an article were incorrectly attributed, they were from the CEO Mr Big.

    i think they just got vex and felt it was your fault because that is an easy correction to make.

  2. Kathy Ann I tend to keep all my doors shut when dealing with the media , I like to leave little or no room for doubt or error. The releases actually had quotes attributed to the CEO, two in fact.
    But I think we miss a bigger point if we focus only on my incident, the real question is: "Shouldn’t there be a more vigourous and adhered to corrections policy in the press?"

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