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Posts Tagged ‘corrections’

Times Sullivan postThanks to New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan for providing the first acknowledgment by anyone at the Times of a fundamentally flawed story I have noted here before.

I won’t revisit the saga of a 2007 Times puff piece about matchmaker Pari Livermore here. Read the links below if you want the background. The story’s premise was flawed and it inaccurately referred to a “charity event,” when the primary beneficiary was not registered as a charity. I think the Times should have corrected the story, regardless of its age (Sullivan called for an follow-up, not a correction). While we disagree about the need for a correction, I applaud Sullivan’s acknowledgment that the Times should have followed up on it when it learned about its flawed premise.

Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

On one point I will heartily agree with Sullivan. Nancy Levine contacted Sullivan and me after she almost made a donation to Livermore, after finding and reading the Times story. But Levine, an executive recruiter, did a little more checking and learned that Spotlight on Heroes, the organization Livermore told her to make the check out to, wasn’t actually registered as a charity.

Levine has sent dozens of emails to Sullivan, other Times editors, other media editors and directors, California legislators and regulators. Sullivan described Levine as “one of the most persistent people I’ve ever come in contact with.” That I can attest to. This, not so much:

I’ll note that Mr. Buttry is almost as dogged as Ms. Levine.

No, I’m not nearly as dogged as Nancy is. She is also one of the most persistent people I’ve ever come in contact with. The media need persistent, dogged people to hold us accountable. Thanks, Nancy!

Twitter reactions

Previous posts relating to the Times Livermore story

Is there a statute of limitations on correcting errors or updating flawed stories?

Why are journalists so reluctant to correct and re-examine challenged stories?

Deni Elliott: Journalists often fail to think beyond ‘Charity = GOOD’

Other journalists correct a story the New York Times stubbornly refuses to correct

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I am dismayed by the continuing refusal of respected media companies to re-examine and correct their reporting when confronted with documentation of their errors.

I blogged about this problem in August, calling attention to puff pieces in the New York Times, San Francisco Examiner, CBS, NBC and other media, depicting Pari Livermore as a matchmaker who paired widowed and divorced middle-aged people in return for donations to “charities.”

Nancy Levine

Nancy Levine

None of the media checked out Livermore’s charities thoroughly enough to learn that her favored charity, Spotlight on Heroes, wasn’t registered as a charity at all. The person who did the digging to learn that was Nancy Levine, a potential client. Levine reached out to me after being blown off by media organizations she approached, seeking a correction or update to their old puff pieces, which showed up in Internet searches, lending credibility to Livermore.

Before my August post, I emailed Livermore, inviting response, and I received no reply. I emailed again for this post and Livermore said she “did mess up the paperwork” for Spotlight on Heroes, sending something to the wrong address. She did not explain why the paperwork didn’t get straightened out and did not answer when I asked her repeatedly whether Spotlight was registered now as a charity. She claimed to have sent me an email (she didn’t say when), but a search of my inbox showed no messages from her. (She sent one Monday, listing work she says her matchmaking donations have supported.)

I can almost, sort of, kind of, nearly buy some media’s initial response to Levine. The stories were old and you could, in the quick read that many complaints receive from editors and news directors, conclude that the errors weren’t serious enough to demand a thorough review or a correction this long after the fact.

But I can’t get there. Levine is thorough and persistent (she would make a hell of an investigative reporter). She provided these news organizations (and me) with extensive documentation that Livermore’s charity, at the least, was not registered properly. If the lack of registration was an innocent mistake, the charitable donations that these puff pieces virtually encouraged were not tax-deductible, and that oversight certainly needed to be corrected. The story demands more investigation by any organization that published puff pieces. (more…)

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Contact information on a news site is certainly a matter of customer service. I’d argue that it’s also an essential form of community engagement. But what about journalism ethics? Is easy access to journalists a matter of ethics? I think so.

Whatever factors you think should motivate contact information, I hope you’ll agree with me that many news sites make it difficult to contact them. And nearly all should do a better job.

Before I make some recommendations and examine some news sites and report on how easy it is to find out how to contact someone in the newsroom, I’ll make the case that accessibility is a matter of ethics:

Correcting errors is one of the basics of journalism ethics, mentioned in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist and Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics. We’ll correct more errors if we learn about more of our errors. And if we’re easy to reach, we’re going to be more likely to learn about our errors.

The New York Times study of the Jayson Blair case revealed that people who read his fabricated stories didn’t bother to contact the Times because they didn’t think anyone at the Times would care. As much as I believe in corrections and accuracy, I don’t bother to request corrections about every error published about news I’m involved in (and my most recent request was ignored anyway). I think news organizations need to invite access and requests for corrections, or they won’t become aware of many of their mistakes.

I think if you tried to reach many news organizations through their websites today, you might come to the same conclusion: that no one there cares. Readers and viewers shouldn’t have to work to call our errors to our attention. (more…)

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When news organizations correct errors, we should not mislead readers.

That sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s actually the topic of a debate on Twitter that I’ve joined today. I should preface this by noting that the people I’m arguing this topic with are friends and outstanding journalists whom I respect. But they are wrong about this.

Here’s the situation: When newspapers (and perhaps other news organizations) correct errors, we tend not to place blame. But when an editor adds an error to a reporter’s story, the correction misleads, implying to any readers who read bylines that the reporter erred. The correction is also misleading to sources, who usually know who the writer was and regularly make decisions about whether and how much to trust reporters.

On its surface, this feels like a journalists’ argument about how many angels (or perhaps devils, in this case) can dance on the head of a pin. Good friends have dismissed my suggestion on Twitter today as “finger-pointing.”

But when you take a phone call from an angry son whose living father was identified by an editor’s insertion into your story as “the late,” you see that this is not a trivial matter and it’s not about finger-pointing. It’s about accuracy. And responsibility. And accountability. (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the fifth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to update and uphold the Eagle’s standards. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics. 

What are “standards”?

Standards establish the baseline of our credibility at The Eagle. Standards are our accuracy, ethics and integrity that build our brand as The Eagle and entrust us as the No. 1 news source with our readers. Our high standards differentiate The Eagle from the competition.

How do we apply Unbolted standards?

We adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. We aim to avoid errors, and we correct errors as soon as we learn they have been committed and after verifying the accuracy. We may offer explanations as to how the errors were made and how the correct information now affects the context of a news story.

Buttry comment: I’ve blogged about how the SPJ Code of Ethics needs updating and how the first draft of an update is disappointing. I recommend one of two approaches: adhering to Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist, which have been updated, or developing a few Berkshire Eagle additions or amendments to the SPJ Code.

The notebook

  • Create one binder/notebook for all staff members that will include materials discussed in this committee and the other Unbolt committees. Also, we need to create a “digital” notebook as well. An internal WordPress blog? Buttry: I like the idea of a blog on ethics. You need to handle it carefully, discussing issues without embarrassing staff members who have made mistakes (unless they are egregious offenses such as plagiarism or fabrication). While I see the value of an internal blog, where you might be able to be more candid, without causing embarrassment, I also encourage occasional public posts about ethical matters. I think we build credibility by telling the public about our ethical decisions and standards and our commitment to ethics.

Digital consistency

  • Put a person in charge of coming up with web uploading standards and making sure they are communicated to all staff. Create a web upload checklist (put in notebook)
  • Let’s write these down, be specific, give examples of the proper way to slug, SEO headlines (put in notebook) and make sure ALL STAFF are trained.
  • Feedback when doing web uploading wrong. Have a weekly “state of the web” email sent out to let people know when updates to protocol have been made.

Eagle style

  • Someone needs to be in charge of updating our Eagle stylebook. This person needs to be given time to do this.
  • Updated style guide put into notebook and also online where staff can access it (blog, webpage?).

Corrections policy

  • Who does the reader contact with a correction? (Make sure that person’s contact info is easy to find on the web and in print) Suggestions for policy:

o   All corrections from every department should run in the same spot in the paper.

o   All corrections should be slugged the same. Example: (Section)CORRECTION(date) and filed into B2/B3, along with an email sent to Tom and the night desk editors that a correction has been filed.

  • Online corrections: Ask online editor Jen Huberdeau to correct the error online ASAP and include an editor’s note in italics at the top of the story explaining the correction and date and time the correction was made. The editor’s note should be included online only when the correction is a factual error (i.e. spelling of name, incorrect information, wrong date, place, time) not for punctuation errors. Those should just be fixed.
  • All online corrections should also go in one place online. One suggestion is a live blog of editor’s notes (similar to what AP Breaking news does) that Jen would update after the correction is made in the story. Buttry: The New Haven Register, another of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, has a corrections blog.

Accuracy checklist

Goal: Create one to print out and put in notebooks

  • Remember: Who, what, when and where
  • Spell names correctly; check with that person in person and verify place names. Do a quick Google search on the name, or even check Facebook, especially when the name is a questionable spelling.) Before hitting send, check the names one more time!
  • Check phone numbers (Google search)
  • Check web addresses
  • Double check locations (Everyone should have a map of their coverage area. Also, someone with local knowledge should put together a “common mistakes” list when it comes to local streets/places to help new reporters.) Is your sense of direction correct?
  • When writing about an event: Time, date, place
  • Any red flags? Don’t just take the police report/coach’s word for absolute, final truth. Does something seem fishy? Ask. Does a name or city street name look different? Ask.
  • Get another read before sending to the web, or putting it on the page. No editors around? Ask a fellow reporter.
  • Know your own weaknesses. Do you have trouble with numbers? Triple check your work. Are you terrible with commas? Ask an editor or reporter to double check your punctuation.
  • SPELL CHECK!

Buttry: I’m an advocate of accuracy checklists. As Craig Silverman notes, they have proven to prevent errors by other professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, and journalists should use checklists, too. Craig and I have developed checklists, but I encourage newsrooms or journalists to develop their own checklists, improving on ours.

Social media/blog standards

  • Live by the rule: “The standard is the standard.”
  • Before posting on Twitter, Facebook, blogs run through the accuracy list above.
  • Appoint a point person to do a nightly check of what our reporters/editors are tweeting/posting. Is it meeting our standards? Is someone doing a great job — and have they been told that lately?

Buttry: I pumped my fist at the suggestion of telling people that they’re doing a great job (if they are). I have noted before that praise is one of the most important and effective management tools.

Code of Ethics

  • Make sure everyone has a copy and at least one is posted in the newsroom and posted online — our readers should know the code of ethics we follow.
  • Possible additions: A reminder that these ethics apply to all platforms of journalism: Print, web, mobile, tablets and social media.
  • Respect for others in the newsroom/your co-workers. Is your space clean? Avoid using language that offends others trying to work. Buttry: These are good points, but I don’t see cleanliness or foul language as matters of ethics. Might want to change the heading or give that point its own heading.

Communication

  • Email should be a back up. Phone or face-to-face is best. Buttry: Excellent point for most important communication. Email is valuable, though, for repeating or reminding of the points made face to face, and can be efficient if people are working different hours or someone is in the field.
  • Similar to the meeting we had to roll out Unbolt, let’s have a quarterly meeting to go over large initiatives.
  • Departments should have a “huddle” once a week to go over changes, check in to see how everyone is doing, discussions about what worked and what didn’t. The “huddle”  should be quick, efficient.
  • Editors should come up with a way to encourage staff who have gone above and beyond. Maybe a monthly wrap-up of what went well? (Similar to the “Strokes and Pokes” newsletter Charles used to create.)
  • Praise goes both ways and across departments!

Buttry: I’ll repeat my praise for including praise here.

Features Editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh led the standards committee, assisted by Entertainment Editor Jeff Borak, sports writer and columnist Howard Herman, Sports Editor Richard Lord, Berkshires Week Associate Editor Maggie Button, community news coordinator Jeannie Maschino and editor and paginator David LeClair.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

Berkshire Eagle’s plan to unbolt coverage and storytelling

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

The Berkshire Eagle’s plan for stronger engagement

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

The Digital First editor needs to lead the staff in mastering the art of reporting the unfolding story accurately.

Your staff needs to understand that getting-it-first and getting-it-right are not conflicting choices but essential dual priorities. If you don’t have it right, you don’t have it first – you don’t have it at all. But you work to get it right quickly. Your staff needs to work urgently to report news as you verify facts.

Demand verification. Ask frequently, “How do you know that?” Then ask, “How else do you know that?” (I’m not sure which journalist first started stressing the first question, but I first heard the “How else …” question from Rosalie Stemer.)

Much attention lately has been paid to the importance of verifying information from social media. You need to demand verification in all situations: not just information reported in tweets, but information from routine sources and from unnamed sources. You don’t just accept the he-said-she-said story from reporters; you insist that they dig past the conflicting stories and report the truth. (more…)

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