The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday September 29th

Mistakes if made must be corrected

Every newspaper suffers corrections.

No matter how thorough the editing flawed information is going to find its way into print.

Accordingly there are two obligations when it comes to accuracy:

1.) Screw up as rarely as possible;

2.) Make amends quickly when mistakes happen.

On the first count the DTH deserves a little bit of slack.

It's a teaching paper and that means that on any given day there are writers with wildly varying experience chasing sources and stories.

As a result" the DTH bears an even greater responsibility to be forthcoming with corrections and apologies.

One of the paper's more striking failures on that front came late last month.

Running under the front-page headline ""Language programs cut"" a March 23rd article detailed the unexpected news that 10 degree programs were being eliminated"" in a round of budget cutting.

Ph.D. candidate Cale LaSalata gave the DTH an incredulous quote" telling the paper" ""It just seems an impossibility"" and it came out of nowhere.""

Truer words were never spoken.

The next day"" the DTH produced another front-page story: ""Degrees to be joined"" not cut.""

Those programs are being consolidated" not eliminated" which makes a big difference.

This error was notable for a host of reasons: it was not a tiny detail but an entire article; it ran above the fold on the front page; and it scared the crap out of a lot of graduate students and faculty.

But the most galling aspect of the whole mess was that the DTH never fully owned up to it. The follow-up article on March 24th detailed the confusion about the ""cut"" degree programs"" but never acknowledged the DTH's own role in creating that confusion.

The only mention of the paper's culpability was a ""Clarification"" printed on page one"" noting that the previous day's story ""implies that courses offered through 10 UNC degree programs have been eliminated.""

But the original story didn't imply anything; it flatly stated that programs were being eliminated.

The distinction between a cut and a consolidation can be tough to discern in a complex budget meeting"" and a number of other media outlets ran incorrect bulletins about ""cut"" programs.

But when an error makes it into the paper"" the only option is to acknowledge it and apologize.

""In retrospect I think we made the wrong call" said DTH Editor-in-Chief Allison Nichols. I think we should have put a retraction in an editor's note in the second-day story" rather than a clarification.""

While that kind of mea culpa can be embarrassing" it is critical if the DTH is to maintain credibility.

For a writer there's no feeling worse than seeing yesterday's story rebuked in your own newspaper. It's like having your class essay hung on the wall covered in a professor's red ink.

Yet for a paper that strives to serve readers while training the next generation of journalists corrections remain a regular concern.

The most readers can ask is that the DTH come clean.


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