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How WUSF Tries to Avoid and Correct Errors

In light of my conversation this week about errors and corrections with Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, I thought it would be good to let our audience see how we deal with errors in our stories.

Here's our current policy. It is always a work in progress. Please let us know what you think in our comments section:

WUSF Public Media strives to provide timely, accurate and fair information to our audience every day. They demand that we “get it right” the first time – and in those cases when we don’t, we promise to be as transparent as possible in fixing the error.

First, we should make every effort to prevent errors. The main person responsible for preventing errors is the journalist who is writing and producing the story.

Our journalists should take special care to make sure that:

1.       We get people’s names and titles right. That means spelling AND pronunciation.

2.       Every fact or number in our stories is attributed to a reliable source.

3.       We double-check facts, especially numbers.

4.       Run everything through a spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word – it is amazing how much you will catch.

When in doubt – leave it out! Better to eliminate a shaky claim than to make it and undermine our credibility because it turns out to be wrong.

Second, everyone needs an edit. When we produce original reporting content, it is imperative to get an edit before that content makes air or is published on the Web.

There are cases where you may not need an edit, such as simply re-writing wire copy or simply passing on a link on our website. But if you feel like this story deserves an edit, it probably does.

If your news director is not available, you can call or text him or her. If that person is still not available, turn to your colleagues for a peer edit.

If a story is especially sensitive, there is no rush to publish it or get it on the air. It is more important to be right than to be first.

Third, mistakes will be made. When they are, they should be corrected as quickly as possible and in a transparent manner.

How to correct a mistake depends on its nature and severity. It also depends on whether it was made on the air or the Web.

1.       If the mistake was made on the air, contact the news director (or program director if news director is not available) as soon as possible.

-          If it is a minor mistake, we may just note it and make sure it does not happen again. For example, if you make a small mistake on a person’s title (News Manager Scott Finn) or a person’s name (Steve Finn.)

-          If the mistake is major, then it should be corrected on the air. The timing and wording of that correction is a decision that should be made by the program director and news director.

2.       If the mistake was made online, contact the news director as soon as possible.

-          If it is a very minor mistake (a typo) – just fix it.

-          If it is a larger mistake (you misspelled someone’s name) – fix it in the copy and then add a note at the bottom of the story. Never repeat the mistake in the correction: Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Christine Bramuchi’s name.

-          If the mistake is very big (a factual error, for example) we should correct it in the story, put an asterisk near the place in the copy that was corrected, and write and editor’s note at the bottom of the story explaining what was corrected, and why.

In rare cases, the mistake may also merit a separate post on the website, apologizing for the error, from the news director.

In any story that’s been corrected, please add a tag: “Corrections.” This will aggregate all our corrected stories in one place.

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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