A wag once said that being a journalist means never having to say you're sorry.
Emerson Stone begs to differ. The former vice president for news practices at CBS News says if it's important enough to report, it's important enough to correct when you get it wrong. This is Stone's 10 point plan for stations wishing to develop or fine-tune a corrections policy:
1. Welcome all who point out your mistakes. Thank them. That sage old Dean, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), wisely wrote: "A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser to-day than he was yesterday."
2. No matter is too trivial to correct. See the New York Times' daily corrections of matters as (supposedly) minor as the spelling of names Those who hear, see or read the news and, out of their own knowledge, perceive a small mistake that goes uncorrected, must ask themselves, "What larger errors do they make that go uncorrected? Can i trust anything they report?'
3. Don't wait. Make the correction on air as soon as its accuracy has been checked.
4. Correct in equivalent news programs. Evening News corrections go in the Evening News, and so on. (You probably don't have the same audience at 11 p.m. and at 5 a.m., so correcting a late-night error in the morning may not do much good
5. Avoid burying corrections. Make the correction as prominent in the broadcast as the original error, not thrown away or glossed over.
6. Be complete That means full and clear, including the statement that it is a correction, from which broadcast, who made the error and how it came about. Doesn't hurt to add that you regret it.
7. Tell the whole truth Procedures like the one directly above sound as if you don't want to tell viewers on the air: I was wrong; here's how, when, and why." On air, of course, is exactly where corrections are most vital. Responsibility is the key word.
8. Be attuned to catching errors. All staff members need to learn to welcome and get full details of any communication, phoned or written, that alleges an error or states a correction. That information then goes to the proper person for checking and action.
9. Respond directly to complaints. A polite response should go to anyone who alleges an error, once the allegation is checked out and has been properly dealt with, regardless of whether the information was right or wrong.
10. Lose the attitude. It is time that we put behind us the days of circling the wagons against claims of error; time to cease those brusque I-haven't-got-time telephone cutoffs or we-stand-by-our-story letters of response. Make some time; get back to the caller promptly, if you really can't talk now. Check out the allegation. Respond by letter if that's the best way. Do the necessary. And again: correct any mistake on the air. (( know: The networks don't do it. Do it.)