A casual observation on how online newspapers treat corrections

Every publication can get something wrong, it’s inevitable, and our fast-paced media environment certainly doesn’t help. Handling corrections and errata correctly is of fundamental importance for maintaining the public’s trust.

On this, the New York Times is clearly best in class, corrections are clearly stated in each online article, and there’s a handy page collecting all corrected articles.

I like to read my news via RSS, which results in me seeing stories that are already a bit out of date, and this has led to me noticing a worrying habit in a couple of otherwise reputable newspapers.

On the 24th of December La Stampa, Italy’s third largest newspaper (not counting sports-oriented ones), published an erroneous agency report stating that Julian Assange would be a guest at the next edition of the Sanremo Festival (which is basically Eurovision without the fun). It was quickly debunked by several sources, but instead of issuing a correction, they just deleted the article. Visiting the URL just leads to a 404 page, and the article remained one the first Google results for the query “Assange Sanremo” for several days. I wrote about it here, in Italian.

Today (the 11th of January, 2019), I saw an El País headline stating that the London City Council was treating olive oil as junk food, and outlawing its advertisement in the Underground.

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London treats olive oil as junk food and forbids its advertisement in the subway

Of course that sounded outrageous, so I clicked for more info, and I was redirected to their homepage. It was, predictably, not true, and I quickly found a thorough debunking.

Exactly like for La Stampa, no correction was issued, the article was simply deleted from their site, but not, noticeably, from their partners. It’s still available here on MSN, for example.

The really annoying thing is that both La Stampa and El País are members of The Trust Project. They should really require member organisations to have a corrections page.

Indeed, the official policy states as follows:

Change and Correction policy

The newspaper must correct any mistakes in its articles, as quickly as possible and in a transparent manner. This task is particularly entrusted to the heads of each of the information areas. Nonetheless, writers have the obligation of correcting their own originals.

Corrections will be incorporated to news items as soon as the newspaper is aware of the mistake, even if years have gone by since the publication date.

Corrections will be incorporated to news items as soon as the newspaper is aware of the mistake, even if years have gone by since the publication date.

Edit: technically, El País did publish a correction, they just never updated the original article, and certainly not the versions hosted on their partners’ websites.

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Lazy biker and videographer. Very occasional scuba diver. Tends to bake when procrastinating. Did Classics in High School, EE + media in Uni.

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