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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Superstars, research support premise of Show Me the Errors

By Maggie Walter
May 19, 2012 | 4:57 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Craig Silverman and Roy Peter Clark, who have earned many mentions in previous columns, were both superstars at the American Copy Editors Society's annual conference in New Orleans in April. 

It was a little love fest for copy editors to spend time with cohorts from across the United States and to hear the latest and greatest ideas for improving the profession.

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Clark regaled the gathering with a humorous presentation about writing and editing. He demonstrated his theory about the rhythm of music being an inspiration for the rhythm of writing. It was certainly a new way to look at the pace of editing.

And, just so you know, that man is a mean piano player. Along with some feisty audience participation in singalongs and dances, it made for an entertaining and unusual keynote address.

Through a bit of unfortunate scheduling, Silverman's session about his advocacy for transparency in correcting errors and his book, "Regret the Error," was at the same time that my colleague, Frank Russell, and I were talking about the transformation of the copy editing work at the Missourian.

But, by chance, I caught up with Silverman in the hotel lobby. (Turns out we both gave each other a shout-out during our own sessions.) During a brief chat, Silverman's passion for getting more news sites to correct more errors and more often oozed throughout his comments.

Joining this illustrious duo is Erin McNeill Jorgensen, who just walked to receive her master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. Her master's research was titled "Making Corrections in a Digital Age: How News Organizations Handle Errors Online."

She cited Silverman's explanation of how news outlets are having a hard time overcoming a reluctance to make corrections and that many still consider such a process to be bad for business.

"Despite evidence which suggests that corrections are actually a sign of a responsible news organization, a 'culture of shame' has developed around errors in the news," Jorgensen wrote.

That's a tremendous cultural shift to overcome, but not correcting errors leaves flawed and wrong information before the public, and that's not good at all, Jorgensen argued. I agree.

She also cited Scott Maier, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, who found in a 2009 study that about 97 percent of factual errors go uncorrected.

Jorgensen wrote: "The good news is it may not be all the journalists’ fault. Another Maier survey of news sources found that, of the 2,700 respondents who identified one or more errors in the stories in which they were referenced, only 11.1 percent had informed the newspaper of the mistakes (2007). As expected, sources who were more 'media savvy' were more likely to notify the paper of the inaccuracy than those who aren’t regular newsmakers."

Those statistics never fail to create a flutter in my brainwaves. First, it is just sad that the relationship between the news outlets and their readers have become so estranged. Secondly, I take pride in the fact that the Missourian has decided to do something about it with its Show Me the Errors contest. 

We hope our readers realize that we mean it when we say we want to know what's wrong. You can join in. It's easy  — just click on the Show Me the Errors entry at the bottom of each story and report any error.

And, for some folks, it's apparently fun. 

We had 39 participants in April, who submitted 103 corrections. Jim Terry, an art history professor at Stephens College, submitted 55 of those entries, and we appreciate every one. Terry was also the winner of the drawing to determine the month's prize winner, but he asked us to pass them along; he's won most of the monthly contests.

Adam Wooldridge, who had nine entries, will be receiving a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of "The Great Typo Hunt."

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com.  She's wonderfully proud of Erin for completing her master's degree and feels honored to have been the chair of her committee. Her grace and intellect should guide her well throughout her career.