Policies covering disputes should reflect transparent, problem-solving approach

What is your prepared response when editorial safeguards fail and you must make a serious correction, or in the worst case, when a miffed reader – for whatever the case – demands a retraction?   Is there a written policy covering standard practice?  Or do you follow a “seat of the pants” approach every time flak starts flying?

Correction and retraction disputes should be rare for B2B publishers, although such is hardly the case in the academic field.  In fact, retraction policies are likely to cover several pages.  On the other hand, content snafus requiring responsive correction notices are a more likely B2B event.  And the expectation by aggrieved parties is the faster the better, especially when online snafus occur.

In those cases where retractions or corrections are involved, a transparent approach is the order of the day.  That advice was offered to Ethics News Update during an interview with Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the Retraction Watch newsletter.

“The more transparent you are the better,” said Oransky.  “If you want readers to trust you, you should have a transparent way of dealing with material you publish.”  A retraction might be issued depending on what the article says and how wrong it is.  When frivolous threats involving libel are received, truth is a defense.  “If the information is not true, you will lose your case,” Oransky warned.

(Editor’s note:  Web-site posting of existing ethics code details is recommended as part of any transparency effort. To date this practice is not widely-followed in B2B circles.  Undoubtedly one reason for this shortfall is that basic written ethics policies have yet to be written.)

Safeguards must be reviewed

Oransky also stressed that any publisher burned for any reason by a recent dispute involving published content “should consider what safeguards you have in place to prevent similar occurrences.”

One recently-recommended example of a safeguard pertains to plagiarism – which requires a special kind of correction, and is increasingly a problem in the digital world of “scraping” or relabeling and reusing existing material.

Publishers can be victimized by outside authors who submit allegedly original material that actually scraped from other published sources.  An immediate step would be to circulate an updated version of your current editorial guidelines policy warning that serious action would be taken against plagiarists.

Of course, safeguards also should be in place to avoid serious disputes stemming from posting of fabricated material.  Diligent fact-checking is the best way to stay out of trouble.  ASBPE’s revised Guide to Preferred B2B Journalism Practices includes this advisory:

“Print and online editors must be diligent fact-checkers of all material, either staff-written or extracted from other sources.  Never assume that information drawn from other media is accurate, including comments to blogs, and information on digital media platforms.

“Especially when reporting legal matters, it is advisable to review actual court documents rather than using information received from sources in the form of press releases.

“Publications should maintain a system, independent of the original reporter and editor, for checking facts in all printed editorial material.”

The Guide’s new Social Media section offers this advisory pertaining to corrections:  “All digital publications should have a policy – easily accessible from the home page of the Web site – for social media corrections.

“When inaccurate information is shared on a social media site, acknowledge it promptly and visibly in the social medium originally used.  To maximize exposure for the correction, consider carefully whether to issue the correction on other social media or via the Web site or by email.

“Corrections should be made within 24 hours of notification of an error.”

(Editor’s note:  Reactions to this article will be included in an upcoming “Ethics Mailbag” summary.  Send comments to ethics@asbpe.org.)