The Post Whittles Down Its Corrections Backlog

By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, April 26, 2009

This appeared on Page A2 of last Tuesday's Post:

"A Nov. 19, 2008, Metro article incorrectly described the origin of Valenti House, a residential treatment program that is part of Woodley House. It was named for Mary Margaret Valenti, wife of the late Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America."

It's a correction. It's also a bit of an embarrassment.

The Post's internal policies call for errors to be corrected promptly. But my ombudsman's column about a month ago disclosed a backlog of hundreds of correction requests, a few dating to 2004. It noted that in many cases "readers never heard whether The Post had rejected their request, or why. For them, it was like sending a correction request into a black hole."

Post editors and reporters, many red-faced from the revelation, have been working through the pile. Many corrections are running, some more than a year after they should have appeared. A broken system is being fixed.

Today's column isn't intended as a pat on the back. The Post doesn't deserve congratulations for addressing a problem that shouldn't have arisen. Rather, this is an update for readers on steps The Post has taken recently to restore faith in its commitment to correcting mistakes.

These steps began on the morning of March 22, when my column about corrections appeared. Robert McCartney, who oversees the Metro desk where the build-up of corrections requests was greatest, sent a note to his staff insisting on a "proactive, forthright, transparent, humble and candid approach to corrections."

Every reader who requests a correction "MUST receive a response in some form," he wrote, noting that Post internal policies dictate that such replies be "polite and prompt."

Existing Post procedures had required only that staffers notify an editor when a reader or source requested a correction. McCartney expanded that to mandate that the reporter, his or her immediate editor and a supervising editor all be notified to ensure the request was addressed.

By that Sunday afternoon, Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli had written to other senior editorial managers, recommending McCartney's note as a "good model for what practices should be, Post-wide."

Three days later, Peter Perl, a top editor and 28-year veteran of the paper, was given broad oversight responsibility for the corrections process. He immediately began working with departments to clear the requests stacked up in The Post's electronic corrections database.

Finally, more than 30 editors and others were summoned to an April 14 remedial training session to ensure they understood how requests should be handled in the database.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company