In the age of an over-abundance of online information available more or less everywhere, why should readers still rely on newspapers as their news source?
Amongst other reasons, because they are trustworthy and still provide accurate, reliable, and thorough information. And, of course, because they recognize themselves in them.
In the effort to keep readers engaged with the paper, some newspapers are trying to improve their quality of information and underscore their commitment to accuracy and accountability.
That is what The Washington Post and the Register Citizen have done through giving a new way for readers to point out errors and submit correction requests.
As sometimes isn't easy for readers to submit correction requests, The Washington Post recently launched a report-an-error form, with the intention of making the process easier and more efficient, Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore reported.
The form - the article said - which is displayed on every article page, asks readers to identify the type of error they've spotted and the section it appeared in. It also asks readers, "How can we fix it?" and "What do we need to know to improve future stories on this topic?"
Tenore reported that as of last week, about 540 people had used the feature to submit corrections, suggestions and tips. Those that seem like errors are first sent to section editors, Managing Editor Raju Narisetti said. From there, they enter the Post's internal database for tracking correction requests. If there's a backlog, the system generates a message that's sent to section editors, who respond and make corrections when necessary.
Not all the requests for corrections really deal with errors: as Narisetti said by phone to Tenore, some are simply readers' opinions. Of the 540 corrections requests submitted using the report-an-error form, 32 pointed out factual errors and 180 pointed out bad links and grammatical errors. Of that 180, about one-third were issues with photo captions. The remaining requests came from readers who were expressing opinions about stories, the article reported.
After seeing the Post's new form also the Register Citizen has adopted the same correction request's layout.
The Register Citizen launched a fact-checking form in May 2010. "On any given day, we are going to make mistakes. We, unfortunately, do more than our share of simply "getting it wrong." Far more extensive, though, at our newspaper and other media outlets, are errors of omission. We don't go deep enough into a story, or we miss pieces of information and perspective that would change readers' perception of an issue", said publisher Matt DeRienzo.
"Launching a formal "Fact Check" program was our effort to, at the very least, declare our acknowledgement of this dynamic. It was an invitation to every reader, source and community member to hold us accountable and engage in correcting, improving or expanding the story", he said.
Corrections forms have two effects on newspapers: showing people that the publication cares about providing accurate information and keep readers engaged with the paper, making the sense of community stronger and keeping readers faithful.
Other similar commitments to accountability and accuracy include hiring an ombudsman or creating special features like the Fact Checker column at the Post.
"Here's what I learned in just one week: Post readers are discerning and demanding, know a thing or two about grammar, and often are just plain frustrated and angry, mostly at mistakes in print and online", Patrick B. Pexton, the Post's new ombudsman, wrote. "They care about what The Post covers, what it doesn't cover and why. They care about accurate locations and identifications in captions and stories, about data in graphics. They care about tone in writing. They care about national and local politics, culture, and sports. And they call and write from all over the country now because they're reading The Post online".
The number of corrections the Post runs has remained steady throughout the past five years, Narisetti said. But, as Tenore pointed out, the point is not much the number of corrections, but the number of errors that remain uncorrected. The article cited Scott Rosenberg, creator of MediaBugs, who said: "The best metric would be the ratio of total number of corrections to the total number of mistakes -- if you correct 90 percent of your mistakes that's better than correcting 25 percent."
Recently Scott Rosenberg and Craig Silverman of Regret the Error launched the Report an Error Alliance, which introduced a report an error button to be displayed on websites. The Alliance has now 105 members.