In aftermath of Giffords shooting, news orgs look for ways to correct tweets

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

One of the lessons that journalism pioneer John Quinn taught me a while back has stuck with me throughout the years: “Get it first,” he used to say, “but first get it right.” I was reminded of his words while watching conflicting media reports unfold shortly after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. (See my related story here.)

NPR first reported that Giffords had died, and soon after CNN, Fox News and The New York Times did the same. But they then retracted the information, saying she wasn’t in fact dead. NPR, which heard the information from two sources — the local sheriff’s office and a congressman’s office — apologized for the mistake and called it an unintentional error of judgment.

The errors played out on Twitter, too. Andy Carvin, who is responsible for NPR’s tweets, said that instead of deleting the tweet he wrote about Giffords being dead, he posted another tweet saying, “Update: there are conflicting reports about whether she was killed.” Carvin didn’t retract the original tweet, he said, because he wanted to be transparent about NPR’s mistake. His handling of the situation made me think about how news organizations should best handle corrections on Twitter.

In an e-mail interview, Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong,” shared an interesting insight with me along these lines. “Why not have a ‘correct’ function (like the ‘reply’ and ‘retweet’ functions) that would automatically send a correction to everyone who had retweeted something that contained an error?” she asked. “That’s not beyond the limits of technology.”

Intrigued by her question,  I decided to tap into my Twitter followers for their thoughts. “Especially interested in @wrongologist’s ques: Why not have a “correct” function on @Twitter to help w real-time verification?” I tweeted. Others joined the conversation, saying you can’t unring the bell when it comes to Twitter, but you can make it easier to make and find corrections.

My colleague Damon Kiesow used Storify to pull together a related conversation that Poynter started when it asked: “If MT=modified tweet then could CT=corrected tweet? What think you @lavrusik @acarvin @craigsilverman @pilhofer @robinsloan? Others vote y/n.” Based on journalists’ responses, it seems as though we really need to find a way to allow for real-time verification, but how?

How do you think news organizations should go about correcting errors made in tweets?