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Post's corrections problem is being corrected

By Andy Alexander

An ombudsman’s column more than a year ago criticized The Post for its “abysmal performance” in allowing a backlog of hundreds of unresolved reader correction requests dating back to 2004. Late last year, I wrote another column scolding the newsroom for too often moving at a “snail’s pace” to correct errors that occurred months earlier.

Today, I’m writing to praise The Post for progress. An examination of its internal database for tracking correction requests shows that the backlog is at its lowest in years.

There’s still room for improvement. Readers periodically complain that their requests for corrections, typically e-mailed to, are never acknowledged. And sometimes it takes too long to run a correction that should have appeared within days. For example, reader Jack Toomey of Poolesville sought a correction the day after a May 6 story erroneously reported that an Amtrak “Chicago Limited” train struck a man near Germantown. As Toomey noted, the accurate name of the train is the “Capitol Limited.” His request still lingers in the system. A correction should have run immediately.

But overall, The Post has reversed its embarrassing inattention to correction requests. Since my initial column, section editors have received regular reminders about correction requests that have been pending for more than 14 days. Where a backlog of several hundred neglected requests once existed, the number now is only four. The database shows a handful of other pending requests that are being addressed and corrections likely will appear soon.

Following publication of my first column on March 22 of last year, Assistant Managing Editor Peter Perl successfully pushed the newsroom to whittle down the huge backlog of requests. The task of riding herd on corrections was subsequently passed to Senior Editor Milton Coleman, who started another push several months ago.

“Most of the delays and non-responses are procedural errors, like the correction request going to the wrong person or falling in between the cracks,” Coleman said. He added that sometimes delays occur due to “a lack of understanding about when we do a correction, versus a clarification or an editor’s note.”

Coleman credited two veteran Post copy editors, Bill Walsh and Martha Murdock, with improving corrections to make them “more fulsome, clearer and more transparent.” That’s helpful to readers, who in the past often complained about Post corrections that made it impossible to know the original error.

Corrections appear on the second page of the A section in print. Online, they are collected under a "Corrections" heading and appended to the relevant articles.

By Andy Alexander  | May 18, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
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Mr. Coleman really wants corrections that are "more fulsome"?

Posted by: npattison | May 18, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

You say the new process is helpful to readers who "in the past often complained about Post corrections that made it impossible to know the original error."

Have these new guidelines done anything to improve integrity and transparency online? You may remember Erik Wemple's take the Turque/Armao/Hiatt/Spayd dust-up:

"The entire episode speaks to [The Washington Post]'s inability to graduate from Web 101. A lot of news organizations---[the Washington City Paper] included---treat their blog work like the inviolate, sacred space that it has become. You don't just take down a post because it pisses someone off, especially someone within the organization. And if you edit or change or delete or remove or alter a post in any way, you make that plain to the reader. To this moment, the edited Turque post contains no alert that the original has been bowdlerized. The subtext here is that, Hey, it's just a blog post---it's not the paper. You can take it down, pass it around, whatever."

Posted by: corones | May 18, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, let's start with knowing that things fall through, not between, cracks, as well as what fulsome means.
The inattention to corrections is a holdover from the days when the big papers had a monopoly on news. The arrogance lingers on, at WaPo and the New York Times. With the big networks, it's impossible even to contact them. NPR is egregious about correcting errors, and when it does a correction, it's a one-time thing on the air, meaning most people don't hear it.

Posted by: dubuqueman | May 19, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

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