Sure, journalists aren’t immune to error. But are we actually mistake-prone?
According to a study by University of Oregon associate professor Scott R. Maier and University of North Carolina Knight Chair and professor Philip Meyer, journalists aren’t practicing what they preach about accuracy.
“The study’s central finding is disturbing,” Maier and Meyer said in a letter to the contest judges. “News sources identified errors in more than 60 percent of local and feature stories, an inaccuracy rate among the highest reported in seven decades of news accuracy research.”
For the project, 22 newspapers stationed all across the states were analyzed for two years. Nearly one out of every two articles surveyed didn’t get the facts straight.
“Where have we gone so terribly wrong that one-half of our stories have errors?” said the judges. “We have let market demands and the drive to ‘beat the competition’ to come between us and getting it right. No wonder people hate us.”
Other important findings of the study included what types of errors were most frequent (objective) and how often readers alert newspapers of their mistakes (rarely).
“The newsroom needs to take note that most news sources didn’t (want) to seek corrections, even when they considered mistakes egregious,” Maier and Meyer said. “Only 10 percent of those who identified errors said they informed the newspaper of the inaccuracy, with many expressing either fear or futility about seeking to set the record straight.”
While the survey certainly reflects poorly on the profession, the researchers are glad that journalists now have guidelines for corrective measures.
“The results of the two-year study are sobering, and, we believe, instructive. … We hope this investigative study helps make the case that the news media need to redouble their efforts to improve accuracy in all its forms,” said Maier and Meyer.
Our professional lives might depend on it.
“Accuracy is the bedrock of media credibility,” Maier and Meyer said. “If reporters don’t get the facts straight, how can readers and viewers trust the media?”