While new technology has changed just about everything when it comes to newspapers, some aspects persist. One of them is the regrettable presence of errors - they used to exist in print, and now they occur also online.
Thanks to technology, however, there are new tools that help combat mistakes in reporting. Writing for Poynter, Craig Silverman examined how the New York Times keeps track of - and reacts to - errors on its pages and website.
Thanks to an internal database that the Times uses to track errors and corrections, the paper noticed that articles by one of its freelancers were being corrected increasingly often. This allowed it to investigate the issue - and eventually to find a solution.
What the Times discovered was that the writer in question was being commissioned by several desks and was, probably, overworked. This resulted in a spike in errors. Thus, the paper cut back the number of assignments, and correspondingly the accuracy of the freelancer's reporting improved.
The case of the freelancer was one of the aspects that Arthur Brisbane, the Public Editor of the New York Times discussed in his column, which discusses the issue of errors and corrections at the paper and in the press in general.
In addition to excessive workload, Poynter's article mentions several other factors that sometimes explain a surge in errors, such as lack of research, sloppy writing, or changes in the traditional workflow. But the point about a corrections tracker is that it helps to pin down an upsurge in corrections, and then investigate what the reasons behind are. In short, it is a tool that gives access to data to identify a problem - and to increase the overall quality of the paper.
Last month, Silverman wrote about correction tallies - columns in which newspapers give a review of the number of corrections published during the previous year. Such transparency is laudable. Although slight inaccuracies or misspellings hardly compare with unethical editorial judgement (see: phone hacking), small errors still suggest carelessness which, the reader may presume, generalises to the publication's overall reporting. Similarly, correcting mistakes openly implies that the newspaper puts a high value on accuracy and transparency.
But it is revealing that even the most highly valued publications make the simplest mistakes: Poynter pointed out that the Wall Street Journal had misspelled the name of one of its reporters in a byline. It would make sense therefore to excuse the odd error when it happens - as long as it is later openly admitted and corrected.