Study: Newspapers Make Many Errors, Correct Few

As much as traditional media outlets and old-fashioned political types like to rag on blogs for being inaccurate, the fact is the old media are hardly paragons of accuracy. According to a University of Oregon study (h/t Glenn Reynolds), newspapers are full of mistakes that almost never get corrected.

The average newspaper should expand by a factor of 50 the amount of space given to corrections if Scott R. Maier's research is any guide.

Maier, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, describes in a forthcoming research paper his findings that fewer than 2 percent of factually flawed articles are corrected at dailies.

Maier's study relied on data gathered from 10 metropolitan newspapers: the Boulder Daily Camera, the Charlotte Observer, the Detroit Free Press, the Grand Forks Herald, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Miami Herald (Broward Edition), the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News, the Tallahassee Democrat, and the Wichita Eagle. Starting on an arbitrary date, researchers clipped from each newspaper every locally produced and bylined story from Page One and the metro, business, and the lifestyle sections until they had collected 400. The study culled no sports stories, opinion pieces, columns, or reviews. The researchers then contacted a primary news source named in each of the stories and asked him to complete a survey about the accuracy of the piece. A news source was defined as a witness or participant with firsthand knowledge of the events described in the story. Only "hard," objective errors alleged by the news sources were included, and the study assumed that the factual assessments of the news sources were correct.

The results might shock even the most jaded of newspaper readers. About 69 percent of the 3,600 news sources completed the survey, and they spotted 2,615 factual errors in 1,220 stories. That means that about half of the stories for which a survey was completed contained one or more errors. Just 23 of the flawed stories-less than 2 percent-generated newspaper corrections. No paper corrected more than 4.2 percent of its flawed articles.

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