The national newspaper of record is gearing up to launch a new user-friendly corrections submission form for its website, NYTimes.com, in an effort to make it easier for readers to report its journalistic missteps. Greg Brock, the Times’ senior editor for standards, spoke with the British website Journalism.co.uk on Friday for a podcast titled “Best Practice Pointers for Handling Online News Corrections.”
In the podcast, Brock said part of the goal is to cut down on the number of people who report errors through an article’s comments section, which is problematic as many errors pointed out by readers end up not being errors at all and could confuse other readers. The new system, he told the website, will “make it as easy as possible for every reader to report an error, or comment on an article if they want to.”
The current procedure for reporting errors to the Times requires readers to send an email to the editors, but Brock said that such an antiquated system is “not good enough.” He also ruled out the possibility of adding a “Report Errors” button at the end of each article, as some newspapers do, saying that the volume of emails the Times receives from readers would preclude that option, at least for the time being.
The New York Times will not be the first major newspaper to implement a corrections form on its website. In April 2011, the Washington Post (NYSE:WPO) launched a “report-an-error” form, which is accessible via a plug-in next to every article. At the time, the Post’s managing editor, Raju Narisetti, told Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenores, “I had been wanting to make it easier for our online audience to flag errors or suggest ways for us to improve stories.”
Still, the New York Times is known for its open policy toward publishing corrections, a standard practice in the news business that has become decidedly more fluid in the digital age. News articles, once static and finite, are now living documents in which factual errors -- no matter how serious -- can be corrected and amended in a split second. That functionality creates a temptation for some news outlets to pave over their mistakes with the click of a mouse, hoping their stumbles and slipups will go unnoticed.
But the Times, which takes the editorial position that the press can’t function as a watchdog unless it watchdogs itself, has remained dutifully forthcoming in admitting its errors, with detailed corrections often appearing at the end of each online article. That self-policing ethos is further typified in the “After Deadline” blog, written by associate standards editor Phillip B. Corbett, who each week recounts even the most trivial style and grammar errors that find their way into the Times’ copy.
As for when the new corrections form will be implemented on the Times website, Brock did not mention a specific launch date but only said that "the new system would be up and running soon.”
Listen to the full podcast with Greg Brock here.