The corrections

<p>Daniel Wattenburger</p>

Ah, the correction. The news media’s way of publishing accurate information while at the same time apologizing for hurt feelings or reputations, and sometimes avoiding lawsuits.

We in newspapers take them especially seriously. Larger newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have a corrections log with at least a couple of entries every day. The East Oregonian prints a box on Page 2A each day letting readers know where to call if they spot some bit of incorrect information. Some days the box also includes a correction or two — we’ve had a couple this week.

The fact is, when your business is publishing information on a daily basis collected from a variety of sources and written and edited by a few people on tight, nightly deadlines, you’re going to get your wires crossed from time to time. Whether it’s a faulty source, a misinterpreted phrase, an assumption made by a reporter or editor or a dumb mistake on the keyboard, errors will get through.

Mistakes happen in every business, by the way, but typically don’t get reproduced thousands of times and sent out to other people’s doorsteps. And while it can be embarrassing to admit when you’ve messed up, we’re not embarrassed by our corrections. Again, it’s part of the business and part of life. The person or people who made the mistake take it to heart, but as a news agency we know that the next edition is coming, and that means addressing the problem and moving on.

It would be nice to go back in time and fix the mistake, and the Internet has allowed us to do the next best thing. Along with printing the correction in the paper, we correct the story online immediately so anyone who reads the story there will get the accurate information. We also note online what change was made, because we’re not interested in covering up the fact that we make mistakes.

We also print the reporter’s name before the stories we write and include their contact information at the end. This is because we want to be transparent about who gathered and produced the information, and allow readers to respond directly, whether about a mistake or with more information.

If you do spot a mistake that needs correction and you’re not sure who made the blunder, the number to call is 541-966-0818.

A few things to keep in mind:

• The correction must be tangible. We hear, occasionally, that a story is “totally wrong” and needs to be fixed. When pressed for details, the complainant sometimes can point to a poorly worded phrase or the fact that the information came from a source they don’t agree with, but can’t be proven one way or the other.

• We only correct incorrect information. If we wrote that somebody was arrested for a duii and that person was arrested for a different crime, or no crime at all, that’s a correction. I haven’t seen that one in my time here, by the way.

If we wrote that somebody was arrested for a duii, and they swear they weren’t drunk or that we harmed their reputation by printing their name and address, we let that stand. We’ll be glad to follow up if that person is cleared in a courtroom of the crime. That one has come up.

• We’re all human. Our newsroom is made up of 13 people and we publish thousands of words in five print editions each week, as well as a never-ending cycle of online news. I hope it’s clear that we take mistakes seriously, but we also want to keep moving forward.

If you feel we made a blunder, whether factual or in the way we reported a story, we’re glad to talk about it. But be prepared to talk about specifics

The correction is not just a responsibility but a point of pride for newspapers in a world where taking ownership of a mistake is becoming less common.


Daniel Wattenburger is managing editor of The East Oregonian.

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