Best Practices: Corrections

The Best Practice column is an occasional look at foundational best practices in journalism ethics. In this post, we are exploring the topic of corrections and how journalists and newsrooms should navigate writing and publishing corrections.

Journalists are human and will make mistakes. With any error – whether it’s using a bad number, misquoting a source, or misspelling a name – the key is correcting the error as quickly as possible and as thoroughly as necessary. Transparency about the nature and centrality of the error is especially important to enhance credibility. As the Associated Press lays out in its Corrections Policy, “when we’re wrong, we must say so as soon as possible.”

While journalism often comes with the urgency to break news, meet deadlines, and share information as quickly as possible, getting the story – and all of its facts – right is more important than beating the competition.

At the heart of our willingness to quickly and fully correct our mistakes is the pact we have with our audiences that they can trust us to deliver them factually correct reports. Letting known mistakes and errors linger or failing to correct them quickly erodes that bond.

Best Practices: 

  • Immediately tell your editor if someone raises the possibility of an error or if you believe you may have made a mistake, and get to work on determining if an error was made. 
  • If no error was made, let the person who raised the issue know that the information is accurate. Never correct an accurate statement, even if pressured to do so.
  • Use plain, easily understandable language in the correction. As the Washington Post writes in its corrections policy, “Anyone should be able to understand how and why a mistake has been corrected.”
  • In many newsrooms, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the incorrect information is included in the correction so that readers can see for themselves the magnitude of the error and how it affects the entirety of the work. Other newsrooms, such at Reuters, avoid re-stating erroneous material unless it’s needed to make sense of the correction
  • Publish the correction as soon as possible. Your audience’s trust depends upon them knowing that you will correct your errors – big and small – as quickly as possible and with no statute of limitations. It doesn’t matter if the error was published yesterday or 10 years ago, it still needs to be corrected as soon as possible.

  • Correct on any platforms where the error was made. Errors made on social media or in push alerts are no exception.

  • Use the mistake as a lesson. The Open Notebook recommends conducting a “mistake autopsy” to identify how you made the error and note it as something to avoid moving forward. 
  • Create a work environment that encourages transparency and a culture of correcting the record, when needed.

  • Give people an easy way to reach your newsroom to alert editors to possible issues, including a phone number or email address.