By: Graham Webster
A 27-year-old journalist in Montreal might just be leading a revolution in the way newspapers correct their mistakes. At his Weblog, Regret The Error (www.regrettheerror. com), Craig Silverman has tracked journalistic corrections since October 2004, highlighting the ones that might draw a laugh from readers or make journalists question the way that media organizations address their errata.
The Web site, which tracks mainly North American newspaper errors, is just one of several pursuits that keep Silverman busy: He’s a columnist for the Montreal weekly magazine Hour and a staff writer for The New Canadian, as well as a freelance writer.
After roughly six months of tracking corrections, and some research, Silverman has an uncommon appreciation for the art of correction writing. “These are things that are maybe 50 words long, sometimes less, and they really in that short space have to say a lot,” Silverman says. “There’s a bit of an art to it.”
With about 30,000 unique visitors to the site in an average month, Silverman says he’s “surprised and thrilled” by the response. Readers have started sending in corrections from small local newspapers, and some copy editors even send in corrections ? but usually not their own. “A common thing is to send the corrections of their competitors,” he says.
Silverman, who in 1999 graduated with a degree in journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, has developed some ideas that he thinks newspaper editors should consider. “I think that there’s much more to be gained from corrections than you’re seeing now in a lot of publications,” Silverman says. One of his pet peeves is when newspapers give corrections creative names like “For the Record,” or “Setting the Record Straight” which he says makes them less useful. “Just call a duck a duck,” he says.
He praises Web operations like washingtonpost.com that include corrections in the story on the Web site, not just off in a corrections column somewhere. His strongest piece of advice: Newspapers should start corrections on the front page, then jump to an inside page. He acknowledges that this idea would trigger “guffaws” from many editors.