The Toronto Star started a weekly “trust initiative” in May to show “readers behind the scenes of our journalism.” In early September, the newspaper shared with readers the decision-making process behind corrections.
Specifically, the Star‘s investigations reporter Kenyon Wallace explained the story behind a correction of a Washington Post story that the Star re-published via the wire. The Washington Post story reported on a dog named Otis that was seen during Hurricane Harvey in Texas carrying food in his mouth. The problem is the story, as published by the Post and re-published by the Star, incorrectly spelled the name of the town where the dog lived. The news reports wrongly said Otis lived in Stinton, when he lived in Sinton.
Despite the fact the news story about a dog in Texas was published in Canada, “several residents of Sinton contacted the Star directly” to report the error.
The Star’s public editor Kathy English and her associate public editor Maithily Panchalingam look at correction requests, realized the Star‘s story was inaccurate, and posted a correction. “A mistake always matters to somebody,” English told the Star. The Star noted that its policy requires a correction below the article to reflect an factual changes to stories.
iMediaEthics asked English what the bar is for the publishing a correction. “We aim to publish a correction when something is clearly wrong and affects the readers’ understanding of the story,” she wrote. “Getting the name of a town wrong seems to me to be clearly more than a typo- as the residents of Sinton made clear in their emails to the Star.”
English added that “some minor typos can be ‘fixed’ in digital copy without a formal correction but stuff that is clearly wrong needs to be corrected properly – here, that means changing the copy and acknowledging the error with a brief note at the bottom of the story.”
“Of course, I am not here 24/7 to do all of the online corrections that arise but generally, people in newsroom know that if they make a change to correct a web story, then the public editor’s office needs to be informed so that we can add a correction or clarification note to make clear that the story was updated to correct a previous version that included an error,” English wrote.
Washington Post spokesperson Kris Coratti confirmed to iMediaEthics the error was in its article, and that it was “fixed shortly after publication.” However, while the Star posted a correction for the error, the original article on the Washington Post website doesn’t feature a correction. Further, the Post article re-published on other websites, like the UK Independent still contains the town’s name spelled wrong.
iMediaEthics has asked the Washington Post why it didn’t post a correction on its article when it fixed the mistake, and if the newspaper alerts other publications when it changes articles that are distributed to them. The Post’s Coratti told iMediaEthics,
“We acknowledge substantive fixes with a note at the top or bottom of the story labelled ‘correction,’ ‘clarification’ or ‘editor’s note,’ depending on what was fixed. When we update a story to correct typos or make non-substantive improvements for clarity, we republish without explanation. Typically, any significant corrections or clarifications would then be sent out on the wire.”
UPDATED: 9/15/2017 4:40 PM EST With response from Post