This past weekend, in the wake of a $1.1 million libel judgment against CalCoastNews.com, the San Luis Obispo Tribune published a piece from its editor, Sandra Duerr, touting the paper’s code of ethics. As newspaper ethics statements go, it’s a pretty good one.
However, Ms. Duerr appears to have a training problem on her staff.
▪ If we make a mistake, we correct that error immediately online and in print in a transparent way so readers know exactly what we’re correcting. Some websites simply change a story to correct the error — or unpublish the story. We don’t. If an online story is incorrect, we’ll add an editor’s note to the story that says “Correction” and clearly note what we have corrected.
Here’s a brief crime/accident report from earlier this month. If you scroll down to the comments, you’ll note this one by me:
If you go to that story, you’ll note that Nicholas Adam Hembree’s name now appears for the first and only time in the final graph. The picture, if I recall correctly, is the same, but now bears Hembree’s name, rather than that of Aaron Schafer.
It’s also interesting to look at the timestamps. The story is timestamped at “MARCH 11, 2017 12:04 PM.” My first comment is timestamped by Facebook more than five hours later, at 5:24 p.m. Hunter Kilpatrick says he still sees the original errors I note at 7:27 p.m. And I have a follow-up comment noting that the story has been fixed with no note that any corrections have been made at 9:53 p.m.
So, at some time between 7:27 p.m. and 9:53 p.m., the story was fixed, but the original timestamp didn’t change.
Wholesale article substitution
At the end of January, when the mainstream media’s reaction to anything Donald Trump said or did resulted in widespread ignorance of political history and journalists hair being set aflame on a regular basis, much was made of what was characterized as some sort of revolt at Foggy Bottom.
Every senior manager at the State Department had resigned. It was unprecedented…if you hadn’t been around eight years ago when Barack Obama won the presidency, or eight years before that when George W. Bush succeeded Bill Clinton.
The Tribune carried that breathless, ignorant story from The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin. You can find it archived, thankfully, by the Internet Wayback Machine and alarmingly headlined: “The State Department’s entire senior management team just resigned.”
If you follow the same URL, minus the Internet Wayback Machine preface, you get a completely different story by the Associated Press headlined a more sober “Trump team accepts resignations from State Department senior management.”
I encourage you to read both articles and note the differing ways that “unbiased” reporters can spin the same facts. It really is an excellent example for student journalists in what bias looks like.
As far as the Tribune and its code of ethics goes, the problem here is that they swapped in a completely new story at the same URL and there is no note they ever did so. I made a comment on the original Post story calling it fake news, and my comment still appears below…a completely different story. A story it doesn’t apply to.
This isn’t uncommon for media outlets
A few years ago I was reading a story in the paper I used to work for, The San Diego Union-Tribune, on University of San Diego Toreros and what was going to be their football team’s first trip to the Division I-AA playoffs. In that article, the reporter erroneously wrote that USD had defeated Cal Poly earlier that season. That was incorrect, they had lost.
I highlighted the error in the comments and a day later returned to the story to see if it had been corrected. The reporter had corrected it, but had left no note that he had corrected it. This omission prompted a reader to allege that I had read the story wrong and that the reporter had gotten it right in the first place.
Just a few weeks ago, none other than The New York Times did something similar, disappearing several paragraphs quoting Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill on then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala) meetings with the Russian ambassador.
Duerr’s rule on corrections/changes to print and web articles is the right one. But her staff isn’t always doing it. I’ve highlighted two recent incidents where they failed to follow their own standards, and I’d be shocked if they were the only ones.
Some additional training is in order. Newspaper ethics matter.