At the very least, journalists must strive to publish reports that are independently verified, accurate, and fair at the time of publication. As news breaks, it’s up to the reporter and editorial team to determine the best way to inform their audience. Significant developments are often shared as follow-up pieces with entirely new headlines and write-ups. Depending on the events, developments can also be added throughout the original article with an updated timestamp, as seen below in a recent CNN post about Americans kidnapped in Mexico.
The next day, the same post was updated with further developments, including the names and photos of those who survived the kidnapping ordeal.
News audiences understand that stories develop over time, and reporters are responsible to post updates as new information becomes available. But continuous coverage does not mean journalists have to endlessly update their prior posts. At any given time, reporters are working on multiple stories simultaneously. If they were required to update all their older stories, there would be no time left to report on current events.
One exception, though, is if there is a factual error or serious correction. Reputable news organizations will always correct those as soon as they discover their mistake—as they should–with humility and transparency.
Here’s an example of one of six corrections posted by The New York Times on March 8, 2023, where the numbers of complaints and charges against Starbucks were mixed up. Not only is it corrected on this dedicated “Corrections” page, but it’s also noted at the bottom of the original article.
By the same token, the public has a responsibility to hold newsrooms accountable by reporting errors and requesting corrections. Newsrooms are not omniscient, and sometimes inaccuracies can live on for a long time before someone notices them. Case in point: In 2014, The New York Times corrected a 161-year-old report about Solomon Northup, after an eagle-eyed reader noticed his name was misspelled twice in a story from 1853.
This Jan. 20, 1853 article recounts the story of Solomon Northup, a black man born free but kidnapped and sold in slavery in the South. After a film based on his life, “12 Years a Slave,” won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014, a Twitter user contacted the the New York Times about the misspelled name, and it issued the following correction:
As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel remind us in Elements of Journalism, the search for truth is a process. “Today, journalists seeking the truth have millions of citizen sentinels strengthening our ability to get to the bottom of things. One does not replace the other. They work together to get the public closer to the truth.”