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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: The biggest risk in reporting errors? We might get it right

By Tom Warhover
December 3, 2010 | 4:32 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

Encouraging readers to report errors is an official movement.

There’s even an alliance.

Scott Rosenberg and Craig Silverman announced the creation this week of the Report an Error Alliance. Rosenberg describes the alliance as “an ad hoc coalition of news organizations and individuals who believe that every news page on the Web ought to have a clearly labeled button for reporting errors.”

The alliance wants reporting an error to be as easy as sharing an article through an e-mail or Twitter icon.

I signed up.

It all feels mildly embarrassing though.

The news industry really needs an advocacy group for reporting errors?

It's as if we created a coalition for the advancement of shoe tying. It would be silly, unless no one tied their shoes.

But there it is.

The news industry traditionally has been defensive when it comes to accepting content. Newsrooms are also conservative places when it comes to change. Too many don't want your feedback.

In a print universe, hearing about a misspelling or grammatical error didn’t help a whole lot. The damage was already done.  Other errors garnered corrections, which are weak prescriptions for factual ailments.

On the Web, a piece of journalism isn’t ever really dead. Errors can be fixed.

So there really shouldn’t be an argument. It doesn’t matter where the fix comes from; the goal is to get the journalism right.

Right?

Here’s a response to Rosenberg’s post about the alliance: “Giving the public the chance to comment on news stories leads to hundreds of idiotic comments — from the kind of people who think they’re correcting an error.”

Ack.

The Missourian’s Show Me the Errors contest has proved otherwise. Sharp-eyed readers have done terrific service by spotting and submitting problems.

While there are submissions intended as comments accidentally sent to the wrong space, the idiotic comment disguised as an error report is the exception.

Refusing to seek help is the senseless decision.

If you have a favorite news site (after the Missourian, of course), you should check how hard it is to report an error. If you’re not satisfied, let the leaders know.

We all want it right the first time. When it’s not, all of us should have the right to help make the journalism better.