Thursday, March 01, 2007


If More Editors Admitted When They are Wrong, Public Opinion of the Media Might Improve

Over the past 10 years, study after study has found American citizens are losing confidence in the news media. The downward trend began in the 1980’s and gained steam in the 1990’s, long-before the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times gave the credibility of large newspapers a black eye.

I’ve conducted a public issue forum, “News Media and Society,” over 15 times in the last three years and one of the things citizens complain about is the perceived “arrogance” of the news media. One of the factors contributing to that perception is that citizens don’t feel like media outlets admit when they are wrong.

That is why Amy Brant’s editorial, “The best of intentions can often prove to be a mistake,” in the weekly Republic Monitor newspaper (Republic, Missouri) was so refreshing this week. Here is an excerpt:

Last week, when I wrote my column and shared my feelings on the situation of
moving the cooperative program (at Republic R-II Schools) into mobile
classrooms, my heart was in the right place, but as I quickly found out, not all
of my information was accurate.

Before you say anything -- I know-a good journalist wouldn't have done that. …

The column was written Tuesday for Wednesday's paper, but by the time I found out at Tuesday night's school board meeting that I was wrong, it was too late -- the newspapers were already on the stands and in the mail.

Therefore, it is my intention this week to let you know of my mistake, and try to communicate the correct information …
Editors and reporters of all shapes and sizes -- both locally and nationally -- make mistakes of fact in stories. Some of those mistakes may be intentional (bias) and others may be unintentional (miscommunication).

The difference with the error outlined in this editorial is that the editor of the Republic Monitor had the guts to admit to the mistake publicly. She corrected the information in the same space she made the mistake one week before and she did it with the same zeal.

It takes big shoulders for an editor to openly say, "I was wrong."

She didn’t pass the blame to anyone else and she didn’t defend the error with fuzzy, situational ethics.

If the rest of the American media establishment was this honest -- and went this far to correct errors in a manner equal to the error itself -- I think public opinion about the news media would improve.

Kudos to Amy Brant for honestly admitting to making a mistake instead of demonstrating “arrogance” like others who make a habit of defending their work, no matter the facts.
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