Trust in news is lost in errors, but won in making corrections

Odoobo C. Bichachi

What you need to know:

...audiences are more forgiving of errors when they see media houses or journalists owning up to the mistakes

Today I share three interesting episodes of feedback on unrelated stories that came to my attention in the last month, among many others. First is from William (surname withheld) who is one of the consistent consumers of NMG-Uganda journalism across platforms, but especially print, on August 2.

He wrote: “When will [Daily] Monitor get its act together? I am sick and tired of apologies over grammatical and typographical errors. Please crack the whip by docking the pay of errant writers. Strengthen the proofreading section. We cannot continue having simple fact/spell checkable mistakes; or you want to teach your readers ‘that it is acceptable to err’. He pointed to two basic spelling errors in Sunday Monitor of July 30.

Second is an early in the morning call on July 29 from enraged reader who said: “In your ‘Today in History’ column [page 2], you write that [Milton] Obote II’s government got into trouble after he appointed Brig Smith Opon-Acak to position of army commander replacing Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok which is false. He was appointed to the position of army chief-of-staff, previously occupied by Maj Gen Oyite-Ojok. If you get things like this wrong, how many other things do you get wrong that I cannot pick out because they’re not in my area of knowledge?

Third is feedback I shared with the newsroom on July 21 after it was brought to my attention by an eagle-eyed reader. It was about what Democratic Party (DP) president-general Norbert Mao, now minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said at the historic signing of a cooperation agreement with National Resistance Movement (NRM) chairman, Yoweri Museveni, who is also President of Uganda.

Did he say: “He told President Museveni that he now has the historical opportunity to gather DP members scattered all over Uganda. ‘You must look for them wherever they are in all the political parties and in all the corners of Uganda’”? (Daily Monitor, July 21).

Or did he say: “He told President Museveni: ‘This is a continuation of a journey that was started even before some of us were born. You now have a historical opportunity to gather patriots scattered all over Uganda. ‘You must look for them wherever they are in all political parties and in all corners of Uganda’.” (New Vision, July 21).

On one hand, a short audio-video clip circulating on social media [likely released by the State House press team] was consistent with New Vision’s quote or paraphrasing of the remarks. On the other hand, Daily Monitor’s quote was consistent with the press statement released by State House, having directly quoted.

How will researchers in future deal with the contradiction in the record of this political event by the two leading newspapers in the country?

I decided to telephone Mao and put two versions of his statement. He affirmed that he had said “patriots scattered all over Uganda” not “DP members scattered all over Uganda”. In the context of the statement and story, this made sense. Anyhow, accuracy, clarity and correct use of language are some of the things that influence the trust in news and in journalism by our audiences. Indeed multiple media studies have highlighted this fact. Studies have also found that audiences are more forgiving of errors when they see media houses or journalists owning up to the mistakes and correcting them.

A recent Reuters Institute Study under the “Trust in News” theme captured this very well: “….when it came to expectations about what ‘good journalism’ means, study participants did sometimes raise matters involving news organisations’ editorial practices.

To take one example, a select number of interviewees, primarily in the UK and US, talked about the importance of correction policies as evidence of professionalism, which made them more trusting of news.

Jeremy (57, man, US), for example, said seeing corrections made him more likely to trust a news organisation: ‘If they just ignore their own errors, well, that’s a problem, and the sooner they catch the error, the better, of course.’ Likewise, Alexander (35, man, UK) was forgiving of news organisations when they made mistakes and said he respected journalists who sought to correct the factual record, ‘At the end of the day there are humans writing these things’.” – ­Listening to what trust in news means to users: qualitative evidence from four countries, https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/

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