Lack of consistent standards for corrections

Traditional news organizations have long considered it important to correct factual mistakes in the paper, but this tradition is not yet in place on the Internet. Even Web sites affiliated with newspapers may not have a consistent policy for correcting mistakes. A survey of newspaper Web sites by Riverside Press-Enterprise Editorial Library Director Jackie Chamberlain found that "there are no standards for identifying, correcting and editing the errors in newspaper Web editions." 1

The participants interviewed for this paper were asked about their organization's corrections policy. The responses were:

The Web sites, including the newspaper and television Web sites, do not acknowledge the mistake; it is simply removed from the site. This approach is at odds with the traditional approaches shown by the newspaper and television journalists. The Web, though, offers journalists the ability to correct a mistake while the story is still current. When newspapers publish and when television shows broadcast, mistakes can only be corrected in retrospect. Still, some readers will have seen incorrect information and may not be aware of the mistake unless they read the updated version of the same story.

Another difference in the news process that affects accuracy is the tendency of Web sites to have fewer editors. Newspaper and television journalists interviewed for this paper said their stories go through several layers of editing, with generally no fewer than three people reading a story or a script. One Web journalist described a much faster process: "It goes up fast, and then the refining and rebuilding start. A story isn't done when it goes up, it's just beginning." 3

This difference in approaches toward accuracy is one of several changes we have seen in how journalists work. We have seen that Web sites, even those affiliated with traditional news organizations, take approaches toward news that differ from traditional practice. Newspapers and broadcast news groups have relinquished the role as sole keeper of journalistic standards. The effects of this change on the news that readers and viewers see will be explored in the next section.