“The absence of corrections yesterday was due to a technical hitch rather than any sudden onset of accuracy. “
The Guardian (UK), February 2, 1999
Regret the Error is Craig Silverman’s nonfiction account of inaccuracy in the media, and is loosely based on his popular website RegretTheError. The book is more than a list of hilarious, or interesting, corrections issued by the news media. It’s a catalog of the most common errors, a discussion on the varied impact of such errors, a critique of the corrections process and an insight into the glaring failure of the news media to adapt fact checking and the corrections process to the high speed internet era. There’s an increasing trend of readers fact checking the news themselves, because the media has become so sloppy in their ability to report news that’s immediate AND accurate.
Just look at the Manti Te’o story back in January. For an entire football season, a stream of news articles about Manti Te’o's heartbreaking tragedy of losing his grandmother and girlfriend in the same day were everywhere. It seems that when faced with such a story, at a minimum, the news outlet would confirm both deaths. It’s a common practice when reporting a death, or prior to running an obituary. And apparently no one bothered to get a source, other than Te’o, or other news outlets, to check the story’s accuracy. The AP just issued an extensive correction for all the stories they carried before the scandal broke.
This book really made me think about what I read, where I read it, and how accurate those sources are. Some, like Deadline and Gawker update their stories immediately,
striking through the inaccurate text and inserting the updated text with a time stamp. And others have never issued a correction. According to a 2005 study, about 50% of local news and feature stories contain objective errors – names wrong, address wrong, etc. It seems highly unlikely that those websites I’m reading are not making errors. They’re either correcting them without admitting there was an error, which is deceptive because it leads the reader to believe the news source never makes errors because they never admit to them. Or worse, they’re not correcting them at all.
A failure to acknowledge and correct errors leads to persistent, inaccurate stories permeating the press. Some news sources issue correction in print, but do not correct or update their online articles. Which means everyone searching the web archives is getting the wrong information. Some online sources have a corrections page, but fail to update the article itself with corrections. There is bad information out there, floating around, and we all consume it every day. And pass it along to our friends.
Some errors are small, and kind of hilarious, like typos or spell check errors and the like. Some can dramatically impact someone’s life, like using the photo of a random innocent person instead of the person who actually committed a horrific crime. And some are intentional, so-called malicious errors by reporters making up their stories. Wherever they come from, they are commonplace and I definitely know that I’m going to think much more critically about what I read online and in print from now on.