Forty-eight percent: that’s the number of news stories with objective, factual errors in them, according to Jonathan Stray who references a 2005 study by Scott R. Maier (PDF).
Stray, who works for the Associated Press, writes that error frequency is largely unchanged in the eight decades that researchers have studied it. Remarkably, only about 3% of all errors are corrected.
What to do? One method to tackle the problem is crowdsourcing. We’ve noted before that Norway’s VG Multimedia lets readers help correct typos with some 17,000 caught in 2010.
Then there’s Mediabugs, an elegant solution any news site can put on its Web site. It’s a small graphic that appears with each story — like any of the “share” buttons you commonly see — that links to a form where readers can submit errors from that story.
Scott Rosenberg, a Mediabugs co-founder, writes about Stray’s work over at Idea Lab and notes that the culture of news organizations often prevents them from transparently dealing with errors.
"Journalists aren’t very good at self-scrutiny, and the hardbitten old newshound in each of us might scorn such work as navel-gazing," Rosenberg writes. "Maybe it would help if we think of it, instead, as accountability reporting — on ourselves."
And just maybe, we’ll understand that our first drafts of history really do need revision.