Making Amends

Article excerpt


Making amends

Nobody likes to admit having made a mistake, and that is particularly true in the news business where our very existence depends on the ability of our readers to depend on the truthfulness and accuracy of what they read in our pages.

For that reason every article we publish is read by at least three editors and sometimes more, especially if it is going to appear on the front page.

In the case of wire agency stories, the material receives at least a couple of additional edits before it even reaches us.

Nevertheless, with tens of thousands of words of material needing to be researched, written and edited within the space of eight to 10 hours every day, mistakes do slip through.

A recent briefing page article, for example, cited binge drinking as a factor in the deaths of 14,000 American students every year; the correct number should have been 1,400.

Some sharp editor should have looked at that and said, "14,000 sounds like a very high number, we had better have the reporter double-check it." But that didn't happen, and the error got into the paper, where it not only was read by our print readers in the Washington area but also by Internet readers around the world.

Potentially worse, it will also go into databases like LexisNexis where it will live forever and perhaps be repeated by other reporters using our article as a research tool.

That's why we print corrections. We understand that it's a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot, in the sense that we call our readers' attention to our failures every time a correction appears.

But we also understand that our credibility would be even more seriously damaged if readers thought we were unwilling to correct our mistakes. And the last thing we want is for people to go around repeating misstatements of fact and saying, "Well, I read it in The Washington Times."

Our editors all understand that when they receive a phone call or e-mail calling their attention to a purported error, they should respond politely that the matter will be looked into and a correction will be printed if warranted. …