Craig Silverman, author of Regret the Error, the terrific blog chronicling uh-oh moments in news, now has a book of the same title coming out imminently and on the book’s site, he’s already posting errors and corrections readers have sent him. Goose, gander. The book is wonderful and important and I recommend it highly.
I was honored to be asked to write the foreword (and was extra delighted to get cover billing). Here are a few snippets of what I said:
Nobody’s perfect – not even journalists . . . especially not journalists.
Reporters and editors make mistakes. Indeed, they are probably more likely than most to do so. For just as bartenders break more glass because they handle more beer, so journalists who traffic in facts are bound to drop some along the way. . . .
It is time for journalists to trade in their hubris and recapture their humanity and humility. And the best way to do that is simply to admit: We make mistakes.
Craig Silverman’s examination of the art of the correction in his blog and now this book could not come at a better time for journalism. For the public’s trust in news organizations is falling about as fast as their revenues (and, yes, those may be related). One way to earn back that trust is to face honestly and directly the trade’s faults. The more – and more quickly – that news organizations admit and correct their mistakes, prominently and forthrightly, the less their detractors will have grounds to grumble about them.
But for journalists, to admit mistakes is to expose failure; corrections, in this logic, diminish stature and authority rather than enhance them. In my experience, some reporters and editors have tended to think that if they just ignored a mistake for long enough, it – or at least its memory and stench – would fade away.
But now that journalists’ readers and sources can be heard via their personal printing presses on the web, it is no longer possible to ignore errors or, worse, to hide them. . . .
But this discussion should be about so much more than just errors and corrections. This is about new and better ways to gather, share, and verify news. And it is about a radically different and improved relationship between journalists and the public they serve. These changes in the culture and practice of journalism will not just bolster journalism’s reputation but expand its reach and impact in society.
Still, this starts with the error. For it is in the error and the correction that the public has been let into the news to improve it. That – and the rare letter to the editor that makes print – had been the only chinks in the castle walls around journalism. But now, thanks to the internet, the public and journalists can do so much more together. The correction is only the beginning of a long list of new means of collaboration. . . .
News is a process. It is a process of trying to get ever closer to truth, to find more facts now with more hands, to see the story through the perspectives of more eyes, to fill in the voids and find the shape of news together. . . .
In the end, this is about instilling an ethic of transparency – even about our fallibility and foibles – in journalism, professional and amateur. It is about being unafraid to speak in our imperfect human voice instead of hiding behind the cold, castle walls of the institution. It is about forging a new relationship of collaboration with the public we serve. It is about our shared goal of a better and more accurately informed society.
We all make mistakes. That’s not the question. The question is what we do next.