Lesley Weidenbener: Correcting mistakes in print and online

Keywords Commentary / Opinion

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my 30 years as a journalist.

I once wrote an entire story about the Ohio River breaching a “levy” instead of a “levee” in southern Indiana. (I told my editor that’s what happens when you ask a political reporter to write about a natural disaster.)

Another time, I wrote a story about a tiny lizard that had found its way on to the “riprap” at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, but I called the rocks “riffraff.” (That’s a mistake my dad never let me live down.)

And I’m chagrined to admit that I once wrote a story saying the Indiana House had passed a bill in the closing minutes of the session, when actually, lawmakers killed the bill.

Mistakes are to be expected when you write tens of thousands of words every year. But they are problematic, of course. Every mistake is a blow to a journalist’s and a news organization’s credibility. Still, I believe it’s what you do when you learn you’ve made a mistake that matters most.

Acknowledging mistakes and correcting them quickly is key to rebuilding trust with skeptical or frustrated readers.

This is on my mind because, two weeks ago, in this column, I made a ridiculous and embarrassing mistake. I attributed 57 points scored in the second-round NCAA game between the University of Michigan and Louisiana State University to two Michigan players rather than two LSU players.

Several readers pointed out that mistake—first in the comments on the online version of the story and later in emails. Most of the notes I received were kind; some were harsh—and I appreciate both.

We corrected the mistake online immediately and included a note at the bottom of the story saying it had been changed. And last week, we ran a correction in the printed paper.

You can see our printed corrections each week in the bottom-left corner of the On the Record page. (Today, that’s page 10A, although we didn’t have any to run—yea!)

But IBJ hasn’t had a place online where readers can consistently look for corrections. If you’ve read a story that’s later corrected, you really have no way of knowing unless you happen to click on that page again. So, we want to correct that (yeah, that pun was intentional).

This week, we created a page on our website for corrections and clarifications. You can find it at IBJ.com/corrections.

You won’t find on this page corrections for every mistake we make. We routinely make small fixes in grammar or spelling or spacing that we notice the second we hit publish or that someone else notices and points out to us. Those are not mistakes of fact and would not change readers’ understanding of a story. So, we will make those fixes quickly and without explanation.

Errors of fact or context are far more important. And so, we will note when we have made those fixes both at the bottom of the story and at ibj.com/corrections.

My mistake from that March 27 column is listed there—and we will add to the list as we make fixes in the future.

We encourage you to let us know when you see a mistake. It’s not just important for the one story at issue but for future stories as well, because a mistake that appears in one place can easily be repeated if not corrected.

To report a mistake, email webteam@ibj.com and we will make a change as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that sometimes a correction involves verifying information and that can take just a bit of time, but our goal is to get things right.•

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Weidenbener is editor of IBJ.

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