Craig Silverman is a Montreal-based journalist and author who specializes in mistakes.
Not his mistakes -- yours. And other journalists. More accurately (and we do want to be especially careful today), he writes a column, maintains a blog, and has even written an entire book about factual errors committed by reporters... and how to prevent them.
His book's eponymous Website, Regret The Error, "reports on media corrections, retractions, apologies, clarifications and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the press. I aim to provide a non-partisan resource to serve both the press and the public; my overall goal is to help make news reporting more accurate and transparent."
All admirable, to be sure, but it got us wondering. The most difficult thing about correcting an error in a text story is eating humble pie. Technically speaking, it's easy enough to issue a correction or even an entire new story -- whether for print or online. (Web protocol is to fix the mistake, and then add a note indicating what was altered or amended, and why.) Whether it's a misspelling, misleading quote, misidentification, or any of the other myriad ways in which humans can mess up relaying information, composing the correction (and apology) may be tricky, but keyboarding and copying/pasting text is not.
However, what happens when there's an error in an online video story? Not as simple to fix! Depending on the nature of the gaffe, you probably have to yank it offline, and then... what? Excise the offending footage? Add explanatory chyron titles? Re-shoot new scenes or interviews? No matter what, re-editing a video is a lot more time-consuming and labor-intensive than re-editing a text story. Or should you just add a text correction next to the video? (But then what if that video is "shared" on Facebook, or embedded on another Website? The text Band-Aid won't accompany the flawed video.)
Hypothetically anything your camera "saw" should be "true." But we all know that footage can be edited to skew or alter reality, especially by juxtaposing scenes (deliberately or inadvertently) in a way that could force a viewer to draw a false cause-and-effect conclusion.
Plus, the subjects you interview can make mistakes, which may not be called to your attention until after the video is posted. Then what? Go back and re-conduct the interview? Replace the old one with the new one? And, if so, let the viewer know this is a corrected version?
Even the reporter's own voiceover narration can accidentally incorporate a wrong date or statistic. Should it then be re-written and re-recorded to the exact length of the audio track it needs to replace?
In short, given the enormous number of ways in which errors can creep into a video story, frankly we're amazed that, even after viewing thousands of non-fiction videos, we've never encountered a "video correction." Is it because they're all so perfect? Or because it's too much work to fix relatively minor errors, so they're just left in? Or because it's too much work to fix errors, and so the wayward video is just removed from the Website altogether? Or because the videos are fixed, and it's just not formally called to anybody's attention?
Given the proliferation of professional videojournalism, we'd like to hear some real-world stories about how mistakes are corrected in that medium. Additionally, let us know if your department or organization has established guidelines or protocols for dealing with video errors when they do arise.
* Craig Silverman's Website
* Regret the Error Website
* Regret the Error book
* Regret the Error column (Columbia Journalism Review)
* Regret the Error 'Accuracy Checklist' (pdf)
* Poynter interview with Craig Silverman
Tip of the cyberhat to Advancing the Story!
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