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Public Editor Sylvia Stead responds to readers and gives a behind-the-scenes look

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Public editor: Readers don’t let The Globe’s errors slip by Add to ...

I’ve said before, Globe and Mail readers are a very smart, well-read group. They notice when errors are made and are surprised when Globe reporters and editors make mistakes.

Case in point – over the past two weeks mistakes were caught by several readers that we fixed.

It started a week ago Saturday with an obituary that incorrectly said that in the summer of 1962, Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas had just introduced his Medicare program. In fact, while Saskatchewan introduced Medicare in late 1961, Tommy Douglas had stepped down as premier to become the federal leader of the New Democrats. Woodrow Lloyd was premier.

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A reader from Montreal said “All the more surprising then is the historical error in her [the writer’s] first paragraph. The summer of 1962 was indeed the locus of a pitched battle over health-care service delivery in Saskatchewan, but Tommy Douglas was not at its centre, nor had he ‘just introduced his contentious new Medicare program.’ In fact, the Medical Care Insurance Act had been tabled by TC Douglas the year before, in a special mid-October session of the legislature. Douglas resigned as Saskatchewan premier Nov. 1, 1961, to attend to his new career in Ottawa as first leader of the federal New Democratic Party. His successor, Premier Woodrow Lloyd, would see the legislation become law, and moreover led the Saskatchewan CCF and government through the 1962 doctors strike and tumultuous birth of Medicare that [the writer]otherwise aptly describes.”

The following Monday, The Globe ran a lovely Facts and Arguments essay on a brother and sister and a squirrel in the fireplace. But the statement in the second paragraph that Oscar Wilde was a confirmed bachelor stopped readers in their tracks. “How could any editor let that slip by?!” one reader asked. “Married to Constance Lloyd, father of two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, he was. I am no literary ace, but this is so well known. Constance changed their name to Holland and Vyvyan’s son Merlin went on to author books on his grandfather. And now uses the Oxford Rooms his grandfather Oscar once did. With Wikipedia, how did your editors let this one through?”

No doubt, the writer was using the old euphemism “confirmed bachelor” to say that Wilde was gay, but on its own, with no context or quotation marks around the phrase confirmed bachelor, it needed correcting.

On Friday, a news story on British pound notes described Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England and Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, as Sir King and Sir Churchill on second reference.

That was wrong because a knight is always addressed by his first name, as in Sir Mervyn and Sir Winston. The same reader asked, “referring (three times) to Sir King when ‘doesn’t everyone know’ that knights and dames are referred to by their first names, as in, Sir Michael (Gambon), Dame Judy (Dench). Never by the surname.”

My way of remembering is with Sir Paul as in McCartney, but you get the picture.

Finally, this past Saturday saw another error that brought out a few humourous responses from readers. The obituary of a well-known physician in British Columbia talked about his “gentile poverty.”

One reader said, “That makes sense; with Anglican parents, it’s not likely his poverty was Jewish.” Another said, “It’s the first time I’ve heard poverty described in terms of its non-Jewishness.”

Of course the word that should have been used was genteel.

If you see any issues about Globe and Mail journalism, please send me an email at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

 

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