Study: Almost half of magazine websites don't note post-publication corrections

The next time bloggers hear that they don’t have standards up to par with the mainstream American media, this study by Columbia Journalism Review will come in handy.  Bloggers have a practice that has become an industry standard to note corrections and changes to posts, especially substantive changes in facts or conclusions.  CJR’s survey of print magazines with websites reveals that almost half of them don’t bother:

The new CJR survey on the practices of magazine Web sites (read it here!) contains lots of interesting information, but one of the most striking nuggets relates to online correction policies. According to the survey, forty-six percent of the magazines at which a print editor is in charge of online content reported that “major errors” are corrected with no notice to readers. For sites where a Web editor makes online content decisions, the figure (54 percent) is even higher.

The findings suggest that many magazine sites haven’t internalized a point made by, among others, CJR’s Craig Silverman: that “one practice that simply isn’t an option for responsible journalists is scrubbing—removing incorrect or outdated information from an online article without adding a correction, editor’s note, or some similar disclosure for readers.”

Scrubbing isn’t limited to magazines, either.  The Miami Herald extensively rewrote an entire article on Marco Rubio last week after its first version questioned whether Charlie Crist had chosen a strategy that would likely backfire on him.  The new version of the article was much more harsh to Rubio, and it contained no indication that the newspaper had changed a thing.  It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen that from a newspaper’s website, either.

Some may note that magazine websites usually have shoestring budgets, with limited resources for rewrites and corrections.  That’s probably true, although that’s not exactly the point of the CJR study.  It asks when those corrections get made, do these media outlets let their readers know about them?  The higher-trafficked sites — those with monthly unique visitors over 50,000 — are actually less likely to inform their readers of a factual correction (page 20).  Whether the website is profitable or not makes little difference in the correction policy.

Bloggers who used this kind of policy would get reamed by their colleagues, and rightly so.  Perhaps the time has come to demand that media outlets meet the same standard as bloggers?