We all make mistakes. No one is perfect, nor should we expect anyone to be. This includes the mainstream media. As much as they produce, it’s not wonder that they are such an easy target for mistakes and errors. Producing content for a ravenous audience that expects a constant churn in content in near real-time is a task that is only thanked in most cases by advertising dollars. Vetting takes time and the obvious dilemma is running with something that is likely to be accurate and be first or take the extra time to vet the accuracy and miss out on the ability to make any meaningful money via impression or click metrics.
What isn’t excusable is an absolute lack in acknowledging errors or having a serious policy to correct them. Journalism’s ethical principles shouldn’t end once a story is published. Injecting misinformation into reporting, op-eds or blogs is no less the responsibility of the author of the piece as a mistake made by cited source. In fact, it’s arguable that such an error is of greater consequence. A chance to catch the error has been lost and perpetuating the mistake only lends to its perceived validity.
The websites of The Economist, Foreign Policy, the Singapore Straits-Times, The Times of India, World Politics Review, The Moscow Times, Voice of America and Foreign Affairs have neither visible corrections pages nor prominent corrections policies, to list a few – Justin Martin, Behind the News
The lack of serious policies for error correction is nothing short of appalling. The incentive to rectify mistakes is left to the court of public opinion, a court whose jury has proven to have a very short term memory. The only true incentive with any lasting power, are the financial ones. But therein lies the problem we all know too well. Financial decisions create a bias that is hard to ignore, even if we wanted to. The incentives are the root of the problem. What we need is an incentive that shifts who is financially rewarded for vetting information.
A pat on the back is not much competition to billions of dollars in revenues.