Newspaper corrections bigger?

Should papers be forced to make big apologies?

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Should newspaper corrections be more prominent?

By Joe Harker

Sometimes newspapers get it wrong. Whether they're called out on their mistakes or not, the front page of a national newspaper publishing a glaring error can have a big impact on opinion.

If a paper says a well-known politician has been caught doing something then people who see it could start to believe it is true, planting the seed of an idea into many minds. Even if the person in question refutes the story and is able to prove otherwise it can be hard to break first impressions once an idea has taken root.

Jack Shafer criticises the "reign of error" that leads to mistakes and falsehoods potentially being printed, suggesting that papers should allocate 50 times the amount of space they currently do for corrections and apologies. Most corrections tend to be relatively minor and innocent mistakes such as misspelling names or getting certain details wrong, but the big stuff may be corrected in a small part of the paper that is not proportionate to the size of the error.

While it would be impractical to allocate huge spaces for errors, perhaps the seriousness of the error should be matched with the size of the apology.

Writing in The Independent, Will Gore certainly seems to think so. He suggests that apologies for big mistakes should make the front page. He cites a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation that upheld a complaint about inaccurate reporting and ordered a paper to publish its apology on the front page. Gore believes most apologies and corrections shouldn't be plastered over the front pages, but the biggest of them deserve to sit pride of place.

Another suggestion is that stories about correction should occupy the same size and space as the incorrect story. It would mean that front page inaccuracies would result in a front page correction while a small story buried in the paper with a mistake would have an apology buried in the paper. While it might help to have big inaccuracies plastered over the front page it may be a better system to have corrections on their own page where they can quickly be found.

It is important for papers to show corrections, as Jill Geisler makes the point that if a paper doesn't publish its corrections then someone else will. Apologising and publishing corrections can help maintain credibility whereas neglecting to do so can quickly breed a bad reputation. With fact checking such a big part of journalism errors will soon be identified and picked out.

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