Correcting errors can be embarrassing, but it’s matter of credibility

One of the more frustrating things about being a journalist is when mistakes happen.

Journalists are a varied bunch. I’ve worked with reporters who really weren’t very good writers but they sure had a knack for finding information and getting people to tell them what they needed to know to put a report together. I’ve known other journalists who could take a poorly written story and turn it into a work of art. But when they went out to cover a story, they’d neglect to ask important questions and they just didn’t seem to have that knack of knowing how to nail a story down, so to speak.

But you put them together and good things happen, at least for the reader. Joe Reporter gets out there and digs up the information that someone didn’t want anyone else to know. Jane Editor takes Joe’s material and crafts it into a piece that is readable and interesting. Suddenly everyone knows how Roger Official has been looting the public funds.

The problem is that, as a journalist, you have circumstances that sometimes prevent you from doing the kind of job you’d like. Your biggest one is the clock. Often, even on a weekly like this, information has to be gathered for a story and it has to be written in a very short time. Weekly journalists multi-task much more than daily staffers, since there are fewer to do the same jobs that have to be done on every newspaper. Having a lot of balls in the air can complicate things too.

Mistakes happen in any business. The grocery clerk who checks you out makes mistakes. The truck driver who backs into your vehicle hopefully didn’t do it on purpose.

The difference between errors in other businesses and this one is that when you make one, thousands of people can see it. It’s a little like standing up on a stage in front of a giant crowd and realizing you just mispronounced the emcee’s name.

On a recent Monday, my wife brought in a kitten that we’ve acquired ? it’s a long story. She jokingly said she was trying him out as the office cat. We know of another newspaper in the state that has an office cat and since we’ve got two kittens right now, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Problem is, Buster, as we’ve been calling him, likes to sit in your lap. So here I am, typing captions for photos in the newspaper, and suddenly I feel two sets of claws digging into my leg. It’s Buster, leaping onto my lap from under my desk… I noticed an error in one of those captions later. Thanks, Buster.

I hate errors in any paper I work at. I feel terrible when I see one after the fact ? especially if it’s mine. Typos are one thing ? they happen and even a critical eye or spell-check won’t always catch them.

The ones that really bother me are factual ? spelling of names, details in stories, wrong ages ? that kind of thing.

Errors are a big problem for journalists not just because they make us look foolish ? or worse ? but because they damage the newspaper’s credibility. I’ve heard lots of nasty talk about the media and how nobody trusts them. I don’t believe that because if you didn’t have some trust in a newspaper, you wouldn’t waste your money and time to buy and read it.

But the reason I and other journalists take errors so seriously is because we want you, the reader, to know that we do not print things that are not accurate ? at least not intentionally.

That’s why, on page 2 or 3, you will sometimes see “Corrections” with some sort of statement about how something got mangled.

Sometimes it’s not our fault that something is wrong. We sometimes get wrong information from someone and, if we have no reason to suspect it is wrong, it can get through. Mistakes happen to journalists just like they do to you in your calling ? fatigue, distractions, trying to do too much at once, or simply not being careful enough.

The bottom line is that we don’t want mistakes and we will correct them. So if your name is misspelled, let us know. The little correction won’t be as good as us getting it right the first time, but it’s important for us to know we have it right and it’s important for you and other readers to know that we’ll correct things when we get them wrong.