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The Nairobi Star's public editor noted that the newspaper reports very few corrections, but makes many more. (Credit: Nairobi Star, screenshot)

The Nairobi Star’s public editor, Karen Rothmyer, weighed in on the Star’s corrections policy in a June ombudsman column.

According to Rothmyer, “the trend toward more corrections hasn’t yet come to Kenya. If judged only by the number of corrections they run, the Star and its main competitors are remarkably error-free.”

While the Star’s ethics code called for the newspaper to correct any “misleading, inaccurate or distorted” information “at the earliest opportunity,” Rothmyer highlighted what appears to be a practice of burying and avoiding corrections.

The Nairobi Star’s editor, Catherine Gicheru, is even quoted as saying that she “tries hard to avoid corrections whenever possible” and claiming that the newspaper would lose credibility if it publishes “too many” corrections.

According to Rothmyer, instead of running corrections, Gicheru prefers to publish “a follow-up story that corrects the error without ever acknowledging that one has been made.”

When corrections are unavoidable, Gicheru still has options, though. “If it’s an honest mistake, it will be called a ‘clarification’. If it’s inexcusable, it will be called a ‘correction’. And if it has the potential to turn into a libel case, it will be billed as an ‘apology.'”

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Rothmyer called for more corrections clearly labeled as such and more “explanation of how the error occurred.”  She also questioned Gicheru’s belief that more corrections means less credibility, citing The Guardian and the New York Times’ frequent corrections and corrections columns.

Rothmyer also invited readers to contribute their thoughts on the Star’s corrections policy. In an e-mail, Rothmyer told StinkyJournalism that she intends to write about the six to eight responses she’s received so far.

“I doubt the column or the comments will make any immediate change, but I hope that over time, by returning on occasion to the subject, I can help nudge things along,” Rothmyer told StinkyJournalism via e-mail.  She added that she would “love to see the Star raise the bar for all the media in Kenya.”

Rothmyer also noted that The Nairobi Star will correct and change stories online without alerting readers to the changes. New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane recently commented on a similar issue at the Times in which story “versions evolve and sometimes morph into something quite different” on the Times’ website.

Brisbane reported that sometimes the Times will remove or correct information in online stories but “corrections are likewise vaporized and therefore go unacknowledged” at times.  Brisbane called for the Times to “do more to document and retain significant changes and corrections.”  While the Times  “has a policy against removing material from its archive (except in rare cases),” Brisbane noted that the story replacement and re-versioning is “de facto removal” in his opinion.

Hat Tip: Organization for News Ombudsmen

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