OJR interview transcript: Correction policies

Written by Adrian Holovaty on August 21, 2003

Online Journalism Review's Mark Glaser interviewed me for his latest article, Newspaper Sites Are Slow to Fix Their Online Corrections Policies. I agree with JD Lasica's philosophy of posting raw transcripts, so here's the whole e-mail interview, which focused on my find-the-contact-information series from a while back:

What prompted you to do your experiment? Did it have anything to do with the Blair scandal and corrections, or just your own frustrations contacting people?

It was definitely my own frustrations. I was inspired to do the experiment after the bajillionth time of going to a news Web site and failing to find the contact information I was looking for.

Honestly, I hadn't even considered the Blair/corrections aspect until a reader e-mailed me this:

"I think that editors create the position of 'Readers' Ombudsman' in order to avoid speaking directly to readers. Perhaps if the NY Times made it easy to get feed-back from readers, they would have been suffiently warned about Jayson Blair to take action long ago."

Do you think now, after the scandal, that top news sites will make it easier to notify them of corrections? Why or why not?

I think some might, because the Blair scandal was such a shocker. But I have a feeling many site managers think they're doing a good enough job already, if only because they're intimately familiar with their own sites to such an extent that they think finding contact information is a piece of cake.

The perfect example: During my series, one online editor e-mailed me to say "you won't have trouble finding that information on our site." Well, I took him up on the challenge, and I *did* have trouble -- it took me about seven clicks to find the information.

Will we begin to see "Correct this story" links within every article? I don't know, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

How important do you think it is for readers to have an avenue to report errors? Why have sites been poor on this front in the past?

Giving users a way to post feedback easily is essential. We're in this business for them, not just to hear ourselves speak. News sites should take a hint from weblogs and allow user comments on every page; I know from experience on my own site that readers often have much to add to a story and are generally willing to take the time to correct something if it's easy to do.

I think sites have done poorly in the past because they're still locked into the old-school gatekeeper mentality: "WE decide what's news, thankyouverymuch, and WE'RE always correct, dammit." That's absurd. The participatory-journalism philosophy being advocated by folks like Dan Gillmor is so much healthier for the industry.

Did any of the top sites you mentioned on your blog actually contact you about your experiment?

None of the sites I focused on contacted me, but a few other online editors did, and the series got some attention in the blogosphere.

Is their worry about spam or getting too much email a legitimate concern? Why or why not?

The spam worry is a lousy excuse for being lazy. If you're worried about spam, obfuscate your address. There are plenty of ways to do it.

As for the worry of getting too much valid e-mail, I just can't understand that, because I sincerely enjoy reading e-mail. I suppose if a news org gets too much e-mail, it would do well to hire a secretary to sort through it.

Comments aren’t enabled for this page.