This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. Each year, Craig Silverman, editor of Regrettheerror.com, compiles a list of how the media fared in terms of typos, trends and media travesties. He’s here to talk to us about the list, and also about a new project he’s launching to encourage a more efficient and accurate way to report and share corrections online. First up, let's talk about the error of the year, Cook’s Source. You may recall the hubbub when an author saw her article about apple pie published without her previous knowledge, much less payment, in the online cooking magazine, Cook’s Source. She requested an apology and financial compensation for the breach of copyright, but the Cook’s Source editor’s clueless response soon became the meme of the moment.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: It was amazing how quickly it spread. It was all over the internet because the editor’s response was to basically say, well, hey, you should not be asking us to pay you. You should be asking to pay us because I worked hard on editing that article and it was in really bad shape when I stole it.
BOB GARFIELD: Now tell me the trend of 2010.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Twitter and the challenge of real time verification. Information is spreading at a really rapid pace, and tools like Twitter are enabling anyone to put things out there very quickly and then for other people, in the case of Twitter, to retweet or republish things very quickly.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, in a perfect world, when there is an error, there is a corresponding correction. What would you say was the correction of 2010?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: The correction of the year goes to The Sunday Times of London, and it actually relates to a report that they published in 2009, what is now sort of a famous scandal called Climategate, which was the release of emails from some climate scientists that initially looked like they were manipulating various findings and evidence to push the idea of climate change. But, in fact, now with hindsight and with some analysis [LAUGHS] and reporting, we see there really isn't anything incriminating about these emails. When they were first released, The Sunday Times ran a story, and the headline was UN Climate Panel Shamed by Bogus Rainforest Claim, and it basically said that climate change isn't really affecting the rainforest. So they took this story and they ran with it, and even when their big source told them that it wasn't true, they manipulated his quotes to suggest that it was. And then,on top of that, it took them about a year to correct this, and it took a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission in the U.K. to actually get them to own up to it. And it’s an important correction, a delayed correction to a, a really bad piece of reporting.
BOB GARFIELD: The back story is that The Sunday Times was obliged to run this correction by the Press Complaints Commission, of which we have no parallel organization here. So it was egg on your face, and the egg was ordered up by a third party. Any other omelets that caught your attention this year?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: You know, the typo of 2010 was on the new website Tbd.com. This blog post originally stated that “one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive.” In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men. And this rocketed around the internet [BOB LAUGHS], not surprisingly. And it’s just incredible because, really, it was a missing letter.
BOB GARFIELD: You know, they say you’re not supposed to inject yourself into the story. [LAUGHING]
CRAIG SILVERMAN: [Laughs] They ended up taking note that this correction had taken hold on Twitter, was being retweeted. They saw that it was being shared on Facebook. And so, they ended up blogging about how popular this correction got, and that led to some backlash and people saying, well, now you’re just boasting about this correction and you’re just trying to use it as link bait to get more and more coverage. Usually, the problem with corrections is that people don't pay enough attention to them, but in this case TBD was actually criticized for paying too much attention to a correction.
BOB GARFIELD: You can't win for losing.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Have you noticed that mistakes are, are popping up more frequently as copy editors slide ever further off the face of the earth?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: There has been some data that’s come out from different public editors at different newspapers, where public editors have looked at their corrections tallies and said that we are actually seeing more corrections now that six months ago or eight months ago we got rid of X number of copy editors. So there does seem to be a link.
BOB GARFIELD: You are floating an initiative called the Report an Error Alliance. Tell me how it works.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: A lot of media organizations online aren't making it easy for people to actually report a mistake. It’s basic journalistic hygiene for us to correct our errors and to make it easy for people to point them out. So what we've done is we've said, listen, the new standard for news organizations online is that on each piece of content there should be a button there for people to be able to report an error. Let's get these corrections flowing. Let's make it easy, rather than hard, for people to report errors.
BOB GARFIELD: Like most broadcasters, NPR doesn't run many corrections, and certainly we don't on this program. We do the best we can in the letters section. But it’s true that broadcast, and cable especially, does a much poorer job than the print media, no?
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. And actually, Scott Rosenberg and Mark Follman at MediaBugs earlier this year actually did a survey looking at the online corrections practices of media organizations in the United States, and they found that at places like CNN and FOX News and other large broadcasters there was either very little or nothing at all when it came to error reporting mechanisms, and then when it came to corrections, again, very hard to find them. You know, a lot of the research that we have about media accuracy is actually related to newspapers, but as far as I'm aware, no studies of significance recently, when it comes to TV, and I'm not aware of a single study when it comes to accuracy on radio.
BOB GARFIELD: Mea culpa. We don't even have a dedicated area of our website to correct our on-air mistakes. But since we have you on every year to talk about the mistakes of newspapers, you could rightfully say to me, Bob, physician, heal thyself. So - go ahead.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Well, I'll tell you, instead of that, why don't we make it a New Year’s resolution that you folks get that section on your website?
BOB GARFIELD: Let's resolve exactly that. On our website in 2011, we will correct our mistakes. Craig, as always, thank you so much.
CRAIG SILVERMAN: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Craig Silverman, editor of Regrettheerror.com, is a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review, The Toronto Star and Businessjournalism.org.