Wick Communications

Don’t regret the error!

In Accuracy on 8 May 2014 at 2:11 pm


Here’s a correction you wouldn’t want to write:

“Our September 28, 2013, article ‘How JK’s sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her’ suggested that JK Rowling made a knowingly false and inexcusable claim in an article for the Gingerbread charity that people at her church had stigmatised her and cruelly taunted her for being a single mother.

“In fact Mrs Rowling recounted only one incident where a visitor to the church sitgmatised and taunted her on a particular day. We accept that Ms Rowling’s article did not contain any false claims and apologise for any contrary suggestion and have agreed to pay substantial damages to Ms Rowling, which she is donating to charity, and a contribution to her legal costs.”

This is from the Daily Mail of London, circling back to a story it did on something author Rowling wrote for a charity. It’s a little convoluted and a lot weird. It also does something that I wouldn’t recommend doing in this country: the correction repeats the error.

Corrections are a fact of life in the newspaper business. I don’t know much, but I do know you will make a correctable mistake at some point in your career. There is no shame in that, as long as you are diligent before publication and dutiful when you do screw up.

Corrections should do two things and two things only: They should correct the error and tell readers how the error came to be in the newspaper. They should not repeat the error, nor apologize for making it. Why? One reason for corrections is to mitigate any liability should the mistake turn into a court action. Repeating the error (as the Daily Mail did in the above example) could actually increase damages in a U.S. court. Similarly, apologizing, regretting the error and so on may seem the right thing to do, but it can also be considered an admission of guilt in a court of law. …

Here’s how I would have written that Rowling correction:

Due to a reporting error in our Sept. 28, 2013 edition, the Daily Mail incorrectly characterized the relationship between author JK Rowling and members of her church. In an article for the Gingerbread charity, Rowling recounted a single incident in which a visitor to the church taunted her for being a single mother.

Get in, get out. Correct the error and say whether a reporter, editor or a source’s bogus information is to blame.

In fairness, I should note that the laws across the pond are different. It’s likely that lawyers on both sides negotiated the language, with the help of the United Kingdom’s Press Complaints Commission.

So try not to say too much with your corrections. And definitely try not to have to write one like this. It’s from the U.K.’s Guardian, published in 2004, and it’s one of the most amazing of its kind:

“In our profile of Daniel Dennett (pages 20 to 23, Review, April 17), we said he was born in Beirut. In fact, he was born in Boston. His father died in 1947, not 1948. He married in 1962, not 1963. The seminar at which Stephen Jay Gould was rigorously questioned by Dennett’s students was Dennett’s seminar at Tufts, not Gould’s at Harvard. Dennett wrote Darwin’s Dangerous Idea before, not after, Gould called him a “Darwinian fundamentalist”. Only one chapter in the book, not four, is devoted to taking issue with Gould. The list of Dennett’s books omitted Elbow Room, 1984, and The Intentional Stance, 1987. The marble sculpture, recollected by a friend, that Dennett was working on in 1963 was not a mother and child. It was a man reading a book.”

— Clay


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