Journalists report the ‘best obtainable version of the truth’ at time of publication. What happens when that information is later found to have changed significantly?

By Kathy English for the Toronto Star

“Did Nunavut hunter shoot grizzly-polar bear hybrid?” read a headline in the Toronto Star some six weeks ago.

As it turns out, the answer to that question is no. The bear that Inuit hunter Didji Ishalook shot during a sanctioned hunt in Nunavut in late May was not a rare hybrid. In the weeks since the Star published this report, DNA analysis confirmed that the bear was in fact a blond grizzly, not a grizzly-polar bear hybrid.

Unfortunately, the Star had not done any follow-up reporting following publication of its May 23 report so we only learned of this pertinent fact last week when a reader sought a correction on the story about a possible rare hybrid known either as a grolar or a prizzly. As the Star had initially reported, the possibility that this bear was a hybrid “has all sorts of possible implications in the face of a changing climate and warming Arctic,” raising questions about how and where a grizzly and a polar bear could meet and mate.

Reader Pav Penna, who frequently questions the Star’s climate change coverage, told us that the subsequent DNA test results of the bear in question “destroy the premise of the entire article… Please issue a correction.”

Is a correction in order? If not, what do news organizations owe their readers when information reported in good faith and accurate at the time of publication – what is often referred to in journalism as “the best obtainable version of the truth” is found later to have changed significantly?

Continue reading this story on the Toronto Star website, where it was first published.