The end of the year is often a time of soul-searching, taking stock and, for anyone who works with words, the moment to look back at cringe-inducing typos, clarifications and corrections.
The Globe publishes these mistakes on Page 2 and online. It’s important to admit to – and to fix – errors openly and transparently. Also, corrections are a good reminder to journalists of the pitfalls that come with publishing thousands of words every day.
Because of the changing nature of their craft, reporters and editors are under ever-increasing demands – to tweet, write and transmit breaking news very quickly. This, and alert readers (who often catch what editors miss and let them know about it) may explain why the Globe’s average number of corrections has increased from 55 a month to 62 (both online and in print).
How do mistakes happen? Many times the devil is in the details: names, titles and numbers. Greater care with the basics would help to reduce such errors but they are almost impossible to eliminate.
For example, what a reporter thought was a fairly common name turned out to be much less so – rather than Bain, it was actually spelled Behn.
In another case, a reporter checked a university website for the job title of someone being quoted – only to learn later that the person had a new position and the site hadn’t been updated.
More easily caught (and thus much more embarrassing) are errant homophones – using words that sound the same but mean something quite different. This year’s list includes cinnamon roles (rolls), Christian tenants (tenets), writing the wrongs (righting the wrongs) and camping in the dessert (desert).
The most frustrating errors, though, are the ones that aren’t merely slip-ups but lapses in critical thinking.
Take the “biscuit” hoax – which The Globe fell for, along with several other media outlets. The story, published on the website, suggested that a food writer had fallen into a “butter coma” after eating 413 biscuits before a meal.
Now, that’s the first clue: 413 biscuits – really? Someone can eat that many? But there were others, such as the fact that the story came from a website billing itself as the “second most unreliable news source” in the state of Arkansas, with content “presented as fictional news with an intent for humour.”
The lesson: Journalists certainly must verify their sources properly – but listen to their guts and apply common sense as well.
Here’s another one that should have been picked up: A story on a by-election in downtown Toronto included a map showing the riding’s average household income and stating that the overall average was $32,027.
It also unpacked various neighbourhoods, putting wealthy Rosedale’s average household income at $305,623, while the Cabbagetown area’s was $192,409 versus $38,021 for a neighbourhood with subsidized housing.
So, how can the average for a riding with many wealthy residents be even lower than that for its poorest neighbourhood?
The answer: It can’t. The correct figure was actually $95,451. The $32,027 referred to the median income of all individuals living in the riding.
Just like a “butter coma,” when it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t.