The currency of journalists is “credibility.” It is something hard won and not automatically acquired. When lost, credibility is difficult (if not impossible) to get back.
Journalists are always defending themselves against charges of bias, favoritism and preference. The most aggressive defense against those charges is an environment of transparency. Readership must be comfortable with the idea that the motives of a news gathering operation are pure and its priorities are up front.
However, reporting is a human endeavor. There are bound to be mistakes. It is not in the mistake that one would find fault, but in how they respond to the error. Richard Nixon learned it the hard way; it is not the act itself, but the cover-up that is the killer.
A recent study found malpractice claims would drop substantially if the doctor simply sat with the patient and apologized for his (or her) mistakes. The power of two words: “I’m sorry.” It goes to diffuse the situation, leaving all parties to come to terms with the humanity of the other.
The practice of published corrections goes hand-in-hand with a philosophy of openness. It is the foundation of credibility. Without responding with timely, sincere corrections, or a direct plan to correct violations of accuracy, transparency of the entire process is compromised. The reader loses faith in the practice, sensing a journalist’s ego is more important than the truth. The entire structure of newsgathering suffers as a result.
Andrew Alexander, Ombudsman for the Washington Post, writes a blog examining the value of timely corrections. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ombudsman-blog/2010/05/posts_corrections_problem_is_b.html?wprss=ombudsman-blog. An Ombudsman (person?) is an advocate for the reader, giving voice to issues such as accuracy and timeliness in corrections. He understands the importance of accuracy, and is active in protecting both the Post’s readership and the paper’s most valuable asset—credibility.