a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Apr, 2016

When journalists make mistakes

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Publishing/writing/career stuff

I have been sick with a cold for most of the week and I have been dragging my sorry butt around the house in the most pathetic way. At least one member of the family feels sorry for me. She has been at my side through THICK AND THIN*:

Dogs are good company when you are under the weather.

* That is, when she’s not busy napping herself.

Sleeping well is nearly impossible with a raspy cough and itchy throat. I made my way down to the couch at 4 a.m. this morning and am still feeling like quite the zombie.

But, newspaper deadlines wait for no man. Or woman. I am just finishing up the next issue of our community newspaper. One of the things I had to type out today, and it was a first for me, was an official correction notice. I will get into that in a moment but first I wanted to talk about spelling mistakes and typos. They’re not great, and of course we do our best to avoid them, but I can’t help but cringe when I see people online slamming a media source for a typo or misspelling. Some readers fly into a rage and spew their anger on Facebook: DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW HOW TO SPELL! DON’T THEY KNOW ANYTHING!?

I beg you to consider the human element here. The writer doesn’t choose to intentionally misspell words and fan the flames of reader ire. Mistakes happen because we are human.

When I see people publicly complaining about a typo I want them to consider whether they’ve ever made a mistake at work and whether would they like to be flogged on the Internet about it, in all caps, for all to read:

Status: Angry face.
JIM IN ACCOUNTING FORGOT TO ADD COLUMN C IN HIS SPREADSHEET! (!!)

A lot of what we’re reading – especially online – is breaking news. Journalists are rushing to get breaking news submitted online before the competition. They’re often overworked, rushing to get their assignments in before deadline. Should the media outlets employ extra people to proofread and check things over calmly? Yes. Does it happen? Not always. This is the world we live in now.

Next degree of error: factual errors. We made a factual error in the most recent last issue of KT. I was embarrassed when a reader contacted me about it (actually, several readers) and the cringe factor has yet to fade. The cover story was about public consultations in regards to Rosemount Library. Rosemount is the oldest library in Ottawa and, like many libraries in Canada and the US, was funded by money from the Carnegie Foundation… money that came via Andrew Carnegie, an American business tycoon at the turn of the century and not, as we put it, Dale Carnegie. Sigh.

The writer messed up and I didn’t catch it before it went to print. Call it a badly-timed brain fart, because I DO know the difference between Andrew and Dale. Not only is my mistake published, on paper, forever in the annals of the Canadian Newspaper Publishing Industry, but it’s on the front page, read by 18,000 people. Andrew Carnegie is flipping over in his grave in disbelief and I’ve stunted the minds of readers who, during future games of Trivial Pursuit, will surely lose because they read the wrong information in their local community newspaper.

I am being facetious, obviously, but I do take these things seriously.

Some larger magazines I have worked with employ fact checkers. In terms of the process, this means that the writers submit their story to the editor. Corrections are made and typos are fixed. THEN, the article is handed over to a different person who calls everyone quoted in that story and ask him or her about every aspect that is being written about. They pour over the article with a fine tooth comb: Did you say this? Are these numbers correct? Is that name spelled Jackie or Jacquie? It’s a good system, but one we can’t employ at our little newspaper. We are only human, and do what we can with the resources that are allocated to us. The readers will have to forgive mistakes that may arise.

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2 Responses to "When journalists make mistakes"

1 | Brenda A

April 8th, 2016 at 2:10 pm

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Right on. Mistakes happen. I love being human <3

Keep being human!

2 | andrea tomkins

April 13th, 2016 at 9:11 am

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Thanks Brenda! I’ll do my best. ;)

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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