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WashPost’s ombudsman, journalism watchdogs tackle errors

“A review of published corrections for the past three months shows that few days passed without a numbers error. I regularly hear complaints that numbers in Post stories don’t add up.”

Andrew Alexander columnThose are the words of Andrew Alexander, ombudsman for The Washington Post in Friday’s column, Post stories that just don’t add up.

Alexander pointed out that some of the errors involved faulty statistics, others were simply math errors.

“Many are inexplicable,” he said. One, in an A-section story last week, said “new industry-wide health-care rules, “will affect about 180 Americans with private insurance” (it should have been 180 million).”

Alexander goes on to write about the damage that errors like this do to credibility.

But then he really takes journalists to task for using a math phobia as an excuse.  He quotes several journalists, including Craig Silverman, who tracks news media mistakes on his Regret the Error Web site and writes a regular blog post for BusinessJournalism.org, Regret the Business Error, about how errors in simple math can really do damage.

“It’s amazing what a minor numerical error can do,” Silverman said.

REPORT AN ERROR

That was Friday.  Errors are getting a lot of attention again today.

Silverman and Scott Rosenberg of MediaBugs have launched a campaign to encourage news organizations and web site managers to make accuracy a priority and provied users with an easy, simple tool for reporting errors.

Silverman and Rosenberg have created The Report an Error Alliance, an ad hoc group of individReport an error buguals and organizations who endorse the idea of making accuracy a priority.

Twitter is full of links to the Report an Error Alliance today.  You may soon see “REPORT AN ERROR” buttons like the one to the right showing up on news websites.

 

About the Author

I am digital director at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, which I joined in 2009. Before that I was Online Community Manager for azcentral, the online site for The Arizona Republic. Before arriving in Arizona, I worked at Newsday where I was Deputy Business Editor. I was the small business editor at BusinessWeek Online. I teach journalists to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools to expand and manage their networks. And I am a cofounder of #wjchat, a weekly Twitter chat about web journalism. You can reach me at Email: Robin.Phillips@BusinessJournalism.org OR RobinJPhillips.com OR @RobinJP

Comments (1)

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  1. Larry Lough says:

    A fellow editor once explained to me that there were three kinds of journalists: Those who can do math, and those who cannot.

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