If newspapers want to stay relevant they must “strife” for accuracy

I took a little break during the holidays -then forgot to come back after the new year, but I’m back –back with a new goal for 2011. I’m going to expand the scope of this blog from journalism to journalism and STUFF. Because honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to write about that probably isn’t really journalism-related.

But this blog entry will be about journalism. This is a letter email we’ll say I was passed by another person who works at a newspaper. And yes, it is a real letter.

As Clipse would say  –Let me set this scene up for you:

An editor wakes up on a Sunday morning, starts the coffee machine, throws a jacket on and goes outside to grab the paper. Immediately he notices something a little off about the front page but shrugs it off. Ever since the company moved all the copy editors that weren’t fired to a copy-editing factory in another state, things hadn’t been exactly the same. And anyway, last night was Saturday, so there probably wasn’t anyone at the newsroom to look over the pages.

He throws the paper on the counter and pours a cup up coffee just as his 8 year-old son comes bounding down the stairs with his favorite mitt.

“We playing catch today dad?”

“Yep, right after the paper. Get that mitt warmed up.”

He sinks into his leather La-Z-Boy and holds up the front page of the first Sunday paper of 2011.  A subhead glares back at him – “Resolutions are good, but for success, experts say people should strife for results.”

He turns the page. Error. The next page. Error. He turns a few more pages. Errorrrrrrr. Thinking he may still be asleep and entering a newspaper editor’s nightmare he looks over the paper at his son pounding a baseball into his mitt across the room.

Each time the ball hits the spot he sees another one. Schalp! Misspelled name. Schalp! Wrong date. Schalp! Style Error.

Then I imagine the rest of it just kind of happens like one of these scenarios. And after he knocks a couple birds out the sky, he puts the paper down and pens this email:

From: Mr. Editor
Sent: Sunday, January 02, 2011 03:28 PM
To: All Editorial;
CC: Copy-Editing Factory

Subject: 61 …

That’s the number of mistakes I see in the four sections of Sunday’s [Newspaper Name Here]. Most are misspellings and grammatical errors in cutlines, namelines, etc., and there are also busted heads on 1A, 6D and 7D. I didn’t bother to count mistakes in copy.

With one mistake being too many, we should be embarrassed that 61 mistakes made it into our product. The very least a newspaper written on a grade school to middle school level should be able to deliver to its readers is truth and accuracy. And each mistake that makes it into print eats away at a newspaper’s credibility. Why should a reader trust the content of a story, for example, if the story has a busted headline or cutline? If the newspaper doesn’t get it right in the headline or cutline, how can the reader be 100 percent sure the newspaper has the facts straight in a story?

I’m an old-school newspaper guy. During most of my childhood, there was no cable or satellite TV, no internet, no cell phones. The fall of Saigon and the end of the United States’ role in the Vietnam War in 1975? The Yankees’ Reggie Jackson becoming “Mr. October” by belting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers? The Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, the botched rescue attempt in 1980, and the release of the hostages in 1981? I followed it all in the newspaper, and trusted what I was reading to be accurate.

To this day, I — and plenty of other folks — prefer to get news through the newspaper and legitimate newspaper websites. I trust what I read there much more than I trust stuff written by non-traditional journalists, bloggers, tweeters, facebookers or whatever else is out there in cyber land. And turning the pages of a newspaper on a Sunday morning is much more enjoyable than booting up a computer for news. Clicking on and scrolling through [Local Columist’s] weekly column on the internet, for example, just isn’t the same. There’s just something lost in the delivery there.

Newspapers are not dead. There’s still more truth and accuracy in newspapers than in any other outlet for news we have. But when I catch 61 mistakes in my Sunday edition of the [Newspaper Name Here], that makes me groan “WTF” and leaves me “LOL,” “ROFL,” “LMAO” or whatever else the latest net jargon might be.

All joking aside, just please know there continues to be readers who are counting on their newspaper to get the facts straight and know the difference between “strife” and “strive,” which we apparently didn’t know in a subhead on today’s 1A. It’s for these readers — the folks who pay my salary, really — that I BMB (bust my butt) each night I work on proofs to correct even the smallest of mistakes.

As my colleagues, I expect the same of you when writing stories and cutlines, editing stories and cutlines or building pages and writing headlines. If there’s a spelling, a style or a fact you’re not sure about, seek help from someone who knows, seek the truth, seek accuracy. Don’t depend on a last line of defense in your editor or the person proofing your pages.

It boils down to attention to detail, responsibility and accountability in your job. While the internet and TV is driving us away from these journalistic qualities, integrity in newspapers remains in vogue. Each of us needs to make a better effort to keep it that way.

TFL (Thanks for listening)

Mr. Editor

Remember Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error Checklist and blogger Steve Buttry’s revamped version? If there’s not a copy posted in your newsroom and somewhere around the copy desk, ask why not.

Wanna see some other stuff:

Check out Regret the Error online here.

And funny stuff here –> Probably Bad News


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