I’ve always thought that one of the charming things about newspapers is the way they fess up to errors. The practice probably has its roots in law — making that correction to avoid getting sued — but it is consonant with publications’ efforts to maintain credibility with accurate reporting.
If you enjoy that sort of thing, at the Web site Regret the Error, Craig Silverman republishes the daily corrections of the news media, along with an annual summary of plagiarisms and other misdeeds.
We don’t typically run corrections of typographical errors or slips in grammar and usage (Complaints about the latter categories tend to be funneled to me); instead we correct errors of fact or omissions. I recall a correction from many years ago about a recipe for hearty cheese soup that had omitted the instruction to add half a gallon of warm water. Anyone who attempted the recipe as originally published is probably receiving high colonics to this day.
Superstitions accrue to newspapers like barnacles to the hull of a ship.* The superstition about corrections is that one must not repeat the original error. This, too, probably has a legal root, out of apprehension that republishing the error could widen exposure to a lawsuit. But observing this superstition leads to opaque corrections like this one from The Sun, one of my favorites:
In early editions of The Sun yesterday, the wrong sea turtle was pictured being released in Virginia.
It was corrections like this that led a former editor to issue a firm instruction that the error may be repeated in a correction whenever it is necessary for clarity.
I wish newspapers had more editors firmly insisting on clarity.
*Probably the most widespread superstition is the prohibition on whistling in the newsroom. I was told when just a tyro that it originated because someone was whistling in the newsroom of a San Francisco newspaper at the moment of the great earthquake of 1906.