Craig Silverman catalogs the media's errors—and his own.
Craig Silverman's devotion to the correction as a literary form dates to 2004, when the Montreal-based writer launched his Web site Regret the Error, which traps and displays journalism's best (and funniest) corrections, retractions, apologies, and clarifications.
Silverman's essential site spawned an equally essential book last fall titled Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, which tells you everything you need to know about the history of journalistic fallibility and the culture of corrections. Proving that he can take a correction as well as the next guy, Silverman includes in Regret the Error an "Error Report Form," inviting readers to submit goofs in his book for posting on Regret the Error. (Disclosure: I'm a Silverman fan and am treated extraordinarily well in the book's pages.) I dove into my copy of the book the day it arrived in the mail, spotted two trivial errors in a single sentence, and scored the first published correction on Silverman's site, beating Reuters' Robert Basler by a day.
Silverman isn't the first book author to showcase his errors on the Web. He credits journalist Seth Mnookin as a pioneer for publishing on the Web the corrections to the hardcover edition of Hard News that appeared in the 2005 paperback. But Silverman, who calls corrections "constructive criticism," seems to be the most aggressive solicitor of his own blunders in journalism. In the book's "Statement of Accuracy," he not only offers to publish to the Web all the errors uncovered but to make them available via an RSS feed or through a free e-mail subscription.
"Corrections work when people know about them, can easily find them, and can choose to receive them in a convenient manner," Silverman writes in an e-mail interview.
At present, Silverman has filed 10 corrections for Regret the Error on his Web site. He has rejected only one request for correction, made by a reader who quarrels with a word choice that he still stands by. Silverman offers to appoint me third-party adjudicator of this particular dispute—that's the sort of fair-minded guy he is—but I must decline.
Asked if there was any pattern to his errors—were all the faulty passages written late at night or composed in the days before the deadline approached?—Silverman explains that all were "entirely preventable."
"None of them were the result of a source being incorrect or other circumstances. They're 100 percent my fault," he writes. He had access to the correction information or—worse yet—knew it.
One of the inherent flaws in the existing correction architecture, Silverman notes, is that readers don't learn of corrections made to articles they've read unless they monitor the publication's correction box every day or happen to stumble upon the correction-appended copy later. He wishes Web publications took better advantage of technology to notify readers of errors in the articles they consume, suggesting error-notification schemes for individual articles. That sounds like a lot of bother. Some publications, such as Slate, provide an RSS feed for its correction column. Isn't that enough?
On the long shot that the Kanadian King of Korrections is onto something, allow me to accommodate his wish, at least temporarily. Here's a hand-built RSS feed that will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. If you're so obsessive that you require immediate e-mail error notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Silverman in the subject head of an e-mail message and send it to email@example.com. If I err and own up to it, I'll send you a Web link to the correction.
I'll continue making these micro-notifications until whim, boredom, or too many confessions of correction force me to cancel them.