Wait, my telephone is ringing

Too Much Mail 01At the papers I’ve worked for, the way to get a correction was to reach either the Ombudsperson or the reporter’s editor. Speaking very pragmatically, the reporter has little reason to take the time to get in a correction over his/her fact error, especially since most publications track the number of corrections each reporter has caused; conversely, an editor is in position of pursuing the point and running the correction if it’s warranted. Don’t bother the writer; contact his/her editor.
Posted by mark at 9:33 pm on May 11, 2006

So, tmatt, how did it go? Did you get any response to your telephone message yet?
Posted by Martha at 5:08 am on May 12, 2006

Just a brief update here from upset Orthodox land. I totally understand that the way to reach a newspaper is through the editorial chain and “readers’ representative” or the desk of the ombudsperson. I’ve done that a few times already, in this case, with the New York Times.

I have ended up in a few answering machines and have received my fair share of automatic computer replies that look something like this:

Thanks for writing. Your message has been received and will be forwarded to the reporter. Because of volume, not all notes will be answered personally. But be assured that we want to hear your thoughts. Please do not respond to this email.

Isn’t that a cheerful phrase? I refer to the magical “Please do not respond to this email.” Kind of makes you want to click “reply,” doesn’t it?

But let me stress something. As Mark said in the comments section, it is really, really wild to think that a reporter at the New York Times has the time to respond to all email about any given story. That, of course, was one of the main points of my original post on this theme (thus, the repeat of the art with this post).

However, the Bill Keller administration has made it clear that the world’s most powerful newsroom is going to make some attempts to listen to its readers, critics and readers who are critics. Digital media are supposed to be interactive and the MSM are struggling to figure out precisely what that means. I can say that the folks here at the GetReligion non-Borg have, several times, heard directly from Times reporters after we have commented on their work. This is good and allows us to make corrections, as well (should that be required).

In this case, I will keep trying to get a correction on this story. I think that the late A.M. Rosenthal would approve of my motives, as I try to help the Times get its facts straight on a major story that it will be covering over and over during the upcoming Summer of Episcopal Sex (the sequel).

I keep requesting this correction, even though I am as skeptical as any of our readers when it comes to evaluating the accuracy of church membership claims. It would be fine with me if journalists, as a rule, used mild forms of sneer language for all such statistics, such as, “The Anglican Communion, which claims to have 77 million members,” etc. Yes, the same would be true of claims by the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics and, oh, the Southern Baptists.

Nevertheless, the Times made a mistake in this case and it should be corrected. Let’s see how the world of interactive digital journalism works in this case.

So I am about to make another call.

Wait! My telephone is ringing (I am not making this up). It’s the national desk of the New York Times. We just — sitting at our computers on each end of the telephone line — followed the URLs and the Times is sending me a request for more information, in which I explain why I think a correction is needed.

Stay tuned.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I prefer it when readers contact me if they have a comment or correction on something I’ve written. I enjoy speaking with readers who have read my pieces and I find they make good sources for future stories.

    At my paper we are obligated to show all corrections to our editors anyway, but sometimes it does help to talk through a correction or clarification. And it forces more mutual civility, I think, when the reader and reporter talk to each other.

  • Martha

    Well, when you’ve straightened out the “New York Times”, how about giving Dan Brown a call?

    After all, isn’t it about time the Orthodox got a slice of the ‘Eeeevil Historical Entity Hiding The Really, Really, No, Honest, It’s Really True Truth”? Yeah, yeah: us Romans get all the screen time as the religious fanatics/cynical manipulators/both religious fanatics *and* cynical manipulators, and if the Holy See got a dollar for every time they did so, then they could do away with Peter’s Pence – but what about Constantinopole? Hmm?

    What, is the Patriarch chopped liver or something? Hey, Mr Big Shot Conspiracy Novelist, what about the *other* Millenia Old Church That’s Knocked About A Bit and presumably knows where the bodies aren’t buried?

    I’d be more than willing to let your side of the house take the flak for once. No, really: consider it an ecumenical gesture ;-)

  • Matt

    Burried bodies? Are you kidding? We Orthodox can’t even keep from losing St. John the Baptist’s head – on at least three different occasions. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to misplace a head.

  • Martha

    See? Already you know where the graves aren’t because there’s no-one buried there because they didn’t really die, they cleared off to La Belle France with their main squeeze!

    And on a side note, if you lot lost St John the Baptist’s head on three different occasions, then that explains the old story about the church with the relics of his skulls – two of ‘em. Obviously, they recovered the lost head twice out of the three times :-)

  • http://revivalblog.com Carl

    Not sure if this is relevant but . .

    I sent a complimentary note to a NYT writer once and got a reply.

    I don’t remember the reporter’s name but he was a black male (I remember this because the article had something to do with race based promotions and he used a word in it that I had to look up. This was the impetus for the email).

    That was a couple years ago. I can’t even find email links now.

  • http://www.philocrites.com Philocrites

    The Times posted a correction this morning: “An article on May 5 about the election of a new bishop in the California diocese of the Episcopal Church referred incorrectly to the worldwide Anglican Communion, to which the church belongs. It is the third largest church body in the world, not the second. (The error also occurred in three previous articles going back to 1989.)”