Making a Right Out of a Wrong

One of the biggest bug-a-boos for journalists and people they cover is mistakes. Although I strove mightily to avoid making them during my years as a newspaper reporter and editor. They did on rare occasion creep in, despite my efforts and diligence.

Or were they really all that rare?

I thought they were and, based on response–or lack of–from subjects of my reports or of those whose stories I edited.

After I left the newspaper business for a position with the Los Angeles Superior Court as its information officer and media liaison, I was stunned by the number of errors that routinely showed up in news stories about the court, its judges and staff, court programs and cases in the court.

The lesson, I decided was that we all probably make a lot more mistakes than we realize and that unless they’re a big deal or really egregious most people don’t call attention to them.

They still stick in the craw of those who see or hear them and they diminish the credibility of the news organization.

A bill introduced in Texas a few days ago, however, not only offers a great opportunity to increase the chances that errors will be corrected, but that promises to reduce the number of lawsuits errors might spark.

Texas House Bill 1759 (HB 1759), would require a prospective plaintiff to give a publisher an opportunity to correct, clarify, or withdraw false content before filing a defamation lawsuit.

The request would have to be made “within a year of the publication and within 90 days of the plaintiff becoming aware of the publication,” according to a story on the Nieman Journalism Lab website.

Should the bill become law, the story goes on to say, “It will encourage subjects to contact publishers who may have gotten something wrong, encourage publishers to listen to and engage with subjects complaining of inaccuracies, and lead to corrections or clarifications in cases where a publisher determines one is necessary, which will provide the public more accurate information.”

This is a great step in the right direction, particularly given that the law would require that if a request for a correction is granted and done prominently and in a way to reasonably reach pretty much the same audience as the erroneous material, punitive damages can’t be awarded a plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit.

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