In sharing an HIV-related statistic, Ms. Hess meant to write about men having sex with men. She dropped the “n” in the last word. You can read more details via TBD, MediaGazer, Jim Romenesko and HuffPo.
So what to make of “the correction heard ‘round the world”? In a comment at Poynter.org, TBD Community Engagement Director Steve Buttry says that rather than relying on the usual copy desk, his thrifty startup hired reporters whose copy would be especially clean but who would fess up when substantive errors happened. TBD sees the Hess correction as an example of its system working, and I agree.Here at the Solomon Scandals blog, I commit atrocities regularly—probably much more often than the typical TBD staffer. Copy editing never was my forte.
My general rule is to note changes when the mistakes are sufficiently important and of interest to readers. I don’t mess with documentation of corrections of routine typos and the rest, and I’m far more lenient with myself if I catch the mistakes earlier on.
By one interpretation Amanda Hess may have gone beyond the call of duty; most readers would not think that public health stats would encompass her personal sex life. Than again, maybe she did not overcompensate, given that the error made Twitter (something she was aware of). If even one reader cares about a mistake, then a news organization needs to acknowledge it and thank the person for the correction. That’s my practice here; like TBD I regard my readers as editors in disguise, one reason why I also refer to them as visitors, so they know they can write back. In a somewhat related vein, I notice that the Guardian in the U.K. runs links showing “article history” to let us know the times of changes and maybe more.
Now here’s a suggestion beyond that. Like Wikipedia, news organizations ideally will track every post-publication change and share the results via history links—so visitors know exactly what was corrected and when. Time for this to be a standard feature in software for news sites? And also in WordPress software and other programs for bloggers? I’d love to add such a wrinkle to the Scandals blog. I also think that news organizations should prominently post reader comments, at least moderated ones. When I owned an e-book blog, I ran links to the last 15 or so reader comments in a column to the right on the home page and inside, and except for first-time commenters, we rarely moderated anyone.
The real problem with journalists isn’t that they make the inevitable mistakes; it’s that they’re so hesitant to admit their infallibility—er, fallibility. While TBD and I don’t always see eye to eye (hey, guys, when are you going to make your server-based Quantcast stats public rather than force us to go by estimated numbers?), I’m with ‘em on this issue. OK, dear visitors. Have at it if you see any goofs in this post! The battle never ends. [Update, 12:01 p.m.: Kirsten obliged.]
Detail: I wouldn’t be surprised if others have similar thoughts about error-tracking software with results visible to the public. I’d love to know of related ideas.
Related: Regret the Error blog.