The Corrections: How Did 2004 Error Rates Compare to the Previous Year's?

By: Brian Orloff Best-of lists are commonplace just before and after New Year's Day, but what about recalling mistakes? In the past few days, several newspapers have published reports about the number of corrections they have run in the past year. And while some have earned bragging rights, other newspaper staffs have their work cut out for them in 2005.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver published 498 corrections in 2004, which is 68 more than the paper published in 2003, a 13% increase. While some might argue this reflects poorly on the paper, Editor John Temple wrote in a column that the growing number of corrections is a good thing. "I think it means we are being more aggressive in catching and correcting errors," he wrote.

San Diego Union-Tribune's reader representative Gina Lubrano reported that the newspaper's correction rate is at a five-year high, with a 2% increase in the number of corrections from 2003. The newspaper ran 690 corrections last year. "Although the increase between 2003 and 2004 was not huge, the types of mistakes concern me, especially because so many could be avoided," Lubrano wrote.

Some newspapers use the year-end review to set goals toward improving the accuracy of their stories. The Orlando Sentinel was successful in reducing the amount of errors made in 2003 by 10%, so, for 2004, editors had set a goal to reduce errors by another 5%. Public editor Manning Pynn said in a column this week that the paper had not met its goal and, in fact, had increased the number of corrections by 6.3%. Pynn attributed this to many internal changes at the newspaper, including the abrupt departure of Editor Tim Franklin.

The goal-centered Boston Globe reported a big drop in the number of corrections from 2003. In 2004, the Globe ran 1,031 corrections, 200 less than the year before. Ombudsman Christine Chinlund wrote, "So what does all this tell us? That the Globe staff was more accuracy-conscious in '03 than the year before? Probably." In analyzing the mistakes made, Chinlund explained that reporters made more errors and editors made fewer.

How is the paper combating errors? "Globe editor Martin Baron," she wrote, "has instituted an auditing system whereby sources on stories are periodically called to see if they found the story accurate. The Globe has also set up special phone and e-mail lines for readers to report errors, and Baron frequently reminds the staff of the need for accuracy."

Other papers, including the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, did not compare the number of corrections run -- that paper had 388 last year -- with previous years. Sill, the public editor at the Beacon Journal, Mike Needs, acknowledged in a column that the relatively low number of errors (about one per day) might be "because few mistakes are brought to the paper's attention." Needs explained some of the paper's more egregious errors, including misspelled names ("It was a bad year for those with some variation of the name Shaeffer"). He also copped to: "Wrong Jumble puzzle answers. Wrong comics. Wrong TV chart. One Sunday front page even contained the wrong price."


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