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October 02, 2005

New York Times Corrections Policy.

Gail Collins has a piece in the New York Times today about corrections to op ed pieces. This is obviously a response to the Public Editor’s (Byron Calame) concerns expressed in his web page four days back.

It isn’t the specifics of which facts that were corrected which is of most interest. Rather, two other things:

1) Ms. Collins:

The most important motive for correcting the minor glitches is history. These days, everything we publish is stored not only in the Times archives and commercially available archives, but in the files of an army of search engines.

I’m not 100% certain which universe she’s living in (Hey! Tim makes sure that’s another paper he never gets asked to write for!). Back a year or so ago Wired ran this story:

But recently, when I googled the terms "Iraq torture prison Abu Ghraib" -- certainly one of the most intensively covered news stories of the year -- the first New York Times article was the 295th search result, trailing the New Yorker, Guardian, ABC and CBS News, New York Post, MSNBC, Slate, CNN, Sydney Morning Herald, Denver Post, USA Today, Bill O'Reilly on FoxNews and a host of others news sites.

What's more, tons of other non-traditional news sources came ahead of the Times, including a number of blogs and low-budget rabble-rousers like Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, truthout and Beliefnet (a site dedicated to spirituality). So did Al-Jazeera (twice). But the Times still ranked low, even after it plastered an Abu Ghraib story on its front page for 32 straight days between May and June. And Google isn't the only one to shun the Times: I got similar results from other search engines (AltaVista, Lycos, Yahoo).

Yes, the NY Times shows up in the paid services like Lexis Nexis, but not in those search engines that 95% of the public use. This is, as we know, a side effect of their insistence that archives be open (and now with Times Select the major columnists) to those who pay. So "the army of search engines" is notreally all that large as far as the Times is concerned.

OK, trivlal point. Next:

2) Calame was most insistent that corrections must be appended to the specific column in which the error occured. Only in this manner will those using (those few) search engines and archives which carry the Times be able to see it. An errors policy which puts it on a later page, or one that puts the corrections box elsewhere in the paper will not do.

Ms. Collins� existing written policy calls for uniformly publishing corrections at the bottom of opinion columns, which leads to their being appended to the original article in nytimes.com and various electronic databases. The approach taken by Mr. Rich means that users of nytimes.com who find themselves reading the Sept. 18 column�something they now must pay to do�get no warning that it contains any error at all. As I�ve said before, I think a crucial function of a correction these days is to get the right information appended to the increasingly referenced digital versions of articles as soon as possible.

Mr. Rich�s corrective comment in his latest column led me to make some further checks, and I found the college roommates myth isn�t a stranger to the pages of The Times�especially the opinion columns. Columnist Paul Krugman referred to Mr. Brown as �Mr. Allbaugh�s college roommate� in columns on Sept. 5 and Sept. 9. Columnist Maureen Dowd called Mr. Brown a �college buddy of Joe Allbaugh� on Sept. 10. A Sept. 13 news article mentioned a job recommendation Mr. Brown once got from Mr. Allbaugh, �an old friend from college.�

It will be interesting to see if Ms. Collins might decide to publish one correction somewhere on the Op-Ed page that would get appended to all the relevant columns, including Mr. Rich�s. Such a move could even be an opportunity to launch a regular corrections box on the page. Editors in the newsroom will do what needs to be done about the Sept. 13 article, I trust. (Also, someone might want to check the accuracy of the illustration that accompanied Mr. Rich�s Sept. 25 column; the term �college roommates� is a major element in the illustration, although the only mention in the column is in the forget-about-it corrective comment.)

Meanwhile, I will look forward to Ms. Collins� letter from the editor on corrections. I hope it will deal one way or the other with the failure of Mr. Krugman to publish other recent corrections in the paper as the current policy requires, which means nothing has been appended to the flawed articles. The errors involve the hot-button issue of the Florida vote in the 2000 presidential election.

(Apologies, the formatting problem with the punctuation is in the original.)

Note the important point, that the corrections, while they may and should appear prominently in the later edition of the paper should also be appended to the original column itself.

Here’s Ms Collins from today:

A classic case of correction run amok involved a column that Paul Krugman wrote on Aug. 19 about the Florida recount in 2000 in which he said that two different news media groups reviewed the ballots and found that "a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore." That was incorrect. Paul tried to clarify things in his next column, but the public editor, Byron Calame, objected that since nothing in the second column was labeled a correction, the original error would survive in the permanent record.

Paul published a correction in his next column. Unfortunately, the correction was based on information published in The Miami Herald that was wrong and had never been formally fixed. Paul appended another correction to the Web version of his column, but asked if he could refrain from revisiting the subject yet again in print.

I agreed, feeling we had reached the point of cruelty to readers. But I was wrong. The correction should have run in the same newspaper where the original error and all its little offspring had appeared. Here it is:


In describing the results of the ballot study by the group led by The Miami Herald in his column of Aug. 26, Paul Krugman relied on the Herald report, which listed only three hypothetical statewide recounts, two of which went to Al Gore. There was, however, a fourth recount, which would have gone to George W. Bush. In this case, the two stricter-standard recounts went to Mr. Bush. A later study, by a group that included The New York Times, used two methods to count ballots: relying on the judgment of a majority of those examining each ballot, or requiring unanimity. Mr. Gore lost one hypothetical recount on the unanimity basis.

Now, the interesting question is, will this be appended to the archived version of the original? As the Public Editor insists is necessary? As, indeed, Ms. Collins thinks is necessary if history is to be left with the correct information (BTW, the actual truth or not of the correction....sorry, I have no idea)?

When this blog’s special reporter (the one with access to Lexis Nexis) wakes from his slumbers in a time zone far to the west of here, we’ll let you know.

Well, as far as we can see, no corrections have been added to the Lexis Nexis versions of the relevant columns. Screenshots of the relevant Krugman pieces. One, two, three.

And just to show you what it should look like, here is the correction to the news story mentioned above. Not just in a boc somewhere, not just in a later edition of the paper, but on the bottom of the original piece so as to provide the correction to those who will read it in the archives. As Ms. Collins insists is important.

One possibility is that Lexis Nexis updates on a different cycle than the NY Times. In which case all we need is someone with direct access to the NYT archives to have a look. Over to someone else.

Further checking shows that the  DJ Factiva database (sheesh, I’m glad I’m not paying for access to all these things) does NOT show the corrections on the original articles. Lexis Nexis does show them but as individual items so there is no link from the original piece to the correction.

EU Rota has also been helping them out with their corrections policy. Umm, listing the things that need correcting. Quite a long list.

Chase me Ladies is also on the subject. I think.

Decision 08 is on to the story as well.

Tehnorati tags. News and Politics. New York Times. Gail Collins. Public Editor. Paul Krugman. Corrections Policy.

October 2, 2005 in Media | Permalink


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I can't believe it, my co-worker just bought a car for $60132. Isn't that crazy!

Posted by: Betsy Markum | Nov 14, 2005 5:32:15 PM