Thursday, April 12, 2012

Today I feel pretty stupid... Mistakes are the bane of all editors

I was taking off my jacket to begin the day when Marcia Warham, our veteran news assistant, looked at me gravely. “We've got a bad headline,” she said.
I looked at the front page of Thursday's paper.
I saw it immediately (if you'll allow the definition of "immediately" to be stretched to 121⁄2 hours too late).
Noted bluebird expert to
speak in Oneida April 24

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Under my breath I used some salty language (I hope I didn't say it too loud).
I hate it when the first thing set for tomorrow's paper is a correction.
Fortunately, when Leah McDonald or Kyle Mennig put the story online they wrote a new headline, a correct headline. I can take a small amount of solace that at least the date was correct in the body of the story.
For the record, John "Mr. Bluebird" Rogers will speak at the Dispatch Building at noon on:
                                        Saturday April 21,
                                        Saturday April 21,
                                        Saturday April 21,

While the pessimist in me will note that more than 10,000 readers of our print edition could have seen my stupid mistake, the optimist in me also notes about 10,000 readers of our online edition could have seen a correct headline.
Which brings me to one of the things that as a "content producer," I like about the Internet: When mistakes are made, they can be fixed -- pronto.
And this is no small thing. Every time one of our staff members makes a mistake, it hurts. As the editor, I'm ultimately responsible for every thing we publish. But the pain is double for mistakes, like this one, I made personally.
And readers hate mistakes, too... and how. I don't believe a week has gone by since I first moved up to an editing job two decades ago that I didn't receive a letter, story comment, email or phone call saying something like, "Your proofreaders must be sleeping on the job," or "my 12-year-old son could do a better job," or "you should be fired and then shot." And those were the nice ones.
For the record, newspapers haven't had proofreaders for at least 50 years. To make up for that, we try to have multiple editors check every page and re-read every story.
But truthfully, it doesn’t always happen. Today, news staffs are leaner; we're publishing multiple updates to stories as they unfold. Mistakes will happen. We try like the dickens to avoid them, but they are a fact of life. You'd probably be surprised how many mistakes we do catch.
And while the local paper is often the butt of jokes -- "The Oneida Daily Disgrace," or "The Syracuse Sub-Standard," or "The Rome Senile" -- I bet if such things could be measured, it would show we make fewer mistakes than most workers make at their jobs. Far fewer.
The big difference is most people's mistakes go undiscovered. And, when discovered, only a few people find out about them. Their errors can often be quietly corrected.
Our mistakes, on the other hand, aren't buried in a file folder somewhere. Ours are in front of tens of thousands of eyes. Few mistakes go unnoticed.
And if people did miss an error, if it's of any importance, we print a correction; and corrections have one of the highest readerships of anything in the newspaper.
I once had a reader who went through the paper for a week and counted everything he considered a mistake. He was right about many of them; others were just the difference between AP style and English composition class rules. He came up with about 20 errors.
I thanked him, because what he did really was useful. But then I asked him, in all fairness, if he would go through just one day's paper and count how many things we got right -- names spelled correctly, accurate dates, addresses that were spot-on.
Of course that would be impossible, the number would be in the thousands. In other words, we get countless things right while making a completely new product every day.
So I hate mistakes, especially my mistakes, especially stupid mistakes; and this was all three.
But the only thing to do when you make a boneheaded error is admit it, see how it can be avoided next time, and move on.
And once more, John Rogers is speaking about bluebirds at noon on Saturday April 21.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Do you have this book?

Madison County Historian Matt Urtz recently contacted me asking if by some chance we still had a copy “Madison County’s Welcome Home for Her Sons and Daughters Who Served in the World War, from from 1917-1919,” knocking around the office somewhere.
He said The Dispatch published this commemorative book in 1919.
This was the first I'd heard of the book; I guess I was absent from work that day.
If you're anything like me, you're probably doing a Google search for the book at this very minute. You'll find people have had the presence of mind to post it online, so it is available for genealogical research; history is preserved.
But Urtz would like to get a copy for the county archives.Please check  your bookshelves and old dusty boxes.This would be a great way to give back to your community.
Please contact me if you can help.