Many iconic U.S. newspapers sport slogans that seek to explain their mission – and self-image. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” has been called “the seven most famous words in American journalism.” “Democracy Dies in Darkness” was an overtly partisan call to arms. But the most telling section of a newspaper’s true values is its “Corrections” page. That’s where journalism distinguishes itself from just about every other profession, routinely and straightforwardly admitting its mistakes. Who else does that?
It is a soul-crushing enterprise. A single misspelled name is all it takes to ruin an otherwise stellar article. We reporters may forget the topic of the piece we wrote last week, while the error five years ago is seared into our memories. But it is also crucial: Reader trust is the lifeblood of journalism. If you can’t believe what you read, why bother?
And yet, we do get things wrong all the time. Despite the self-righteous claims of too many news outlets, journalists don’t print The Truth. The “first draft of history” is necessarily messy and incomplete. What journalists have long promised readers is that we will do our best to get the story right initially and then set the record straight when better information emerges. This isn’t solely a commitment to high-minded ethics. It is also transactional: Journalists can so readily acknowledge errors because readers honor and reward our honesty. They forgive us our trespasses because we acknowledge them.Read More