Inaccurate "Correction" by Star-Advertiser

Maybe it's time for Honolulu's newest news organization to hire a public editor, the way The New York Times does.

That person could be the readers' representative, a completely independent and knowledgeable journalist to examine the paper's work and help keep it honest. That's the kind of thing the sole newspaper in a city needs to think of that isn't as necessary when a city has two newspapers.

A good example of why this might be a good idea for the Star-Advertiser can be found in the bottom left corner of Page B2 today, in its corrections box.

Here's what the correction says:

"The Hawaii Business Roundtable has clarified that it has not taken a position on civil unions. The Roundtable has urged Gov. Linda Lingle to veto the civil unions bill because of administrative concerns about implementation. A Page B3 article Thursday described the group's position incorrectly."

I pointed out this error on Civil Beat Friday. It is true that the article described the group's position incorrectly. But what the correction fails to acknowledge is that the error occurred in an above-the-fold, front-page headline Thursday, not just in the article. That headline was what most people will remember. Not the Page B3 article. If the paper is going to use a tabloid/magazine-style front page, with just one centerpiece article surrounded by a number of headlines telling readers what's inside the paper, it needs to treat those headlines as objects that have value in and of themselves. That means they need to be corrected, too.

And it needs to treat its website like it's actually part of the same publication. I've written about how the paper is essentially ignoring the web. If you want a good example, take a look at how the print correction in this case is treated on its website.

If you read the erroneous B3 article online today, you'd never know that it was incorrect. There's no sign on the page that a correction was published or that the premise of the story was wrong. You can find a copy of the correctionin a separate location, but it's not connected to the article. The paper is essentially doing what papers did 15 years ago on the web, and that's shoveling what they produce for the paper online. That's not good enough for the only paper in town.

This is about responsibility and accountability. These are much harder to maintain when there's only one newspaper in a city. But they're almost much more important.

I received a call Friday from the Star-Advertiser reporter who wrote the erroneous article on the business roundtable. He sounded upset that I hadn't called him before writing that the article was wrong. He didn't dispute the accuracy of what I had written, but said I should have called to learn about "mitigating" factors. I told him that I didn't think those were important. The article was either right or wrong. And I knew it was wrong. He blamed the errors on editors who hadn't talked to him. That might be the case, but that's an internal issue, not really of interest to readers.

In this case, the article made a factual assertion. The question was whether it was accurate. The answer was clearly, "No." His article was wrong. So was the paper's front-page headline. And that's a disservice to readers. When there's only one newspaper in a city, accuracy becomes even more important because there's no other print voice to counter the impression a paper leaves.

I'll be talking about what it means to be a one-newspaper town at a Beatup at Civil Beat at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. If you want to attend, please RSVP to beatup@civilbeat.com. I look forward to hearing what you're seeing in the new Star-Advertiser.


DISCUSSION: Are there examples from the new Star-Advertiser that raise concerns for you about what it will mean for Honolulu to be a one-newspaper town? Share your thoughts in our one-newspaper town discussion.

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