Scott Maier, one of the foremost newspaper accuracy researchers working today, gave Slate's Jack Shafer a sneak peek at his latest piece of research, and the news is not good:
Maier, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, describes in a forthcoming research paper his findings that fewer than 2 percent of factually flawed articles are corrected at dailies.
Maier, along with Philip Meyer, has done some of the most important media accuracy work in recent years. (He's featured prominently in the upcoming Regret the Error book.) This latest paper, entitled "Tip of the Iceberg: Published Corrections Represent Two Percent of Factual Errors in Newspapers" and to be published some time this year, provides some of the data that accuracy folks have been lusting after for some time. It delivers a picture of what percentage of total errors are actually corrected by newspapers, and offers insight to the number of requested corrections that are granted. Writes Shafer:
The researchers then contacted a primary news source named in each of the stories and asked him to complete a survey about the accuracy of the piece. A news source was defined as a witness or participant with firsthand knowledge of the events described in the story. Only "hard," objective errors alleged by the news sources were included, and the study assumed that the factual assessments of the news sources were correct.
The results might shock even the most jaded of newspaper readers. About 69 percent of the 3,600 news sources completed the survey, and they spotted 2,615 factual errors in 1,220 stories. That means that about half of the stories for which a survey was completed contained one or more errors. Just 23 of the flawed stories—less than 2 percent—generated newspaper corrections. No paper corrected more than 4.2 percent of its flawed articles.
This is important new data because, in the past, accuracy surveys have calculated the number of errors spotted by sources, but they have not taken this data and correlated it with the number of resulting corrections. As a summary, newspaper accuracy research over the last more than 70 years has found that on average there is some type of error (either purely factual or subjective) in roughly about 50 percent of news stories. Now Maier has added another essential and shocking finding to the pile.
On another note, researchers at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University recently published a different kind of study related to newspaper corrections. They used the corrections from this site as source material, and the article includes some quotes from this site's editor.