Update: SPJ, in reaction to a recent article by the Columbia Journalism Review, recently corrected the error and posted the correction. SPJ’s correction reads:
“Correction and update [1/7/2011]: The original post noted that there had been “… 250,000 diplomatic cables posted online …” This number came from an Associated Press report. In reality, the number of cables actually posted at the time was closer to 2,000. The number was changed in this post when the author and SPJ became aware of the error. However, a full explanation or clarification regarding the correction was not added, as noted by Craig Silverman of the Columbia Journalism Review. This clarification is included now, and SPJ thanks Jay Rosen and CJR for pointing out the incorrect number and omission.”
by Matthew L. Schafer
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) President Hagit Limor, in a December 2, 2010 post, falsely indicated that WikiLeaks had posted online a “quarter million dimplomatic cables.” WikiLeaks has only released around 2,000 on it’s website.
Limor is not alone in this mistake (NPR and POLITICO recently corrected theirs), but it appears a more grievous mistake on the SPJ website. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, caught the error on Tuesday, tweeting it to thousands of followers.
“Unbelievably, the President of the Society of Prof’l Journalists makes the same error re: Wikileaks dumping 250,000 cables,” Rosen wrote.
After being made aware of the mistake, LWR emailed Ms. Limor and several commenters posted the error in the comment section of Limor’s website. Limor indicated to LWR that the error would be corrected. It was. Surprisingly, Ms. Limor did not indicate the correction on her website though. Instead, only the error was corrected, breaking yet another rule of journalism ethics.
“What sort of message does that send about accuracy and accountability?” asked one commenter on Limor’s website.
The SPJ Code of Ethics specifically addresses correcting errors, indicating that journalists should “admit mistakes and correct them promptly.” While Limor admitted the mistake to LWR, she failed to do so on her website–where it matters most.
Another common rule of journalism ethics embraced by several journalism associations reads, “We shall rectify promptly any harmful inaccuracies, ensure that correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticized when the issue is of sufficient importance.”
If there is any person who should follow widely accepted rules and ethics, it should be the President of the Society of Professional Journalists. Instead, she now joins the ranks of individuals and organizations that have inaccurately characterized the WikiLeaks’ cable release.
Nonetheless, there is hope. Over at the Report an Error Alliance, several journalists and bloggers have placed an easily recognizable image that users can click on to report errors. Partners in the effort include Salon, Poynter, TBD, and and 89 other writers and websites.
“Giving site visitors an easy-to-find, easy-to-use “report an error” button is a way of saying to them that you care about accuracy, you want to know when you make errors, and you’re conscientious about fixing them,” REA writes. “It’s like putting a “you can trust this” badge on everything you publish.”