It’s been more than 40 years, but I still remember my first correction. I was a summer student covering courts and heard one lawyer’s name as “Green," which I spelled “Green." On the court docket outside the room, which I didn’t check, it said correctly “Greene.” It was embarrassing, but it also gave me an early lesson to verify every fact – especially names. I bet most journalists have those errors imprinted on their brains and are better for it.
These days, those attacking the accuracy of the media like to throw out the term “fake news,” which means the stories are made up and without any truth or validity. There is almost none of that in this country, but journalists do make mistakes. In my job as public editor, I oversee and often write hundreds of these corrections every year. The reporters who make the errors are embarrassed, but they consider what went wrong: Did they see an older reference to a person’s job title? Did they not double check the math? Did they misunderstand?
I apologized to one reader who kindly pointed out an error, and she said: “Mistakes happen. Fixing them is what counts.”
The standard for correcting is for significant factual errors. A person’s name is a significant error. A title or business name is not always significant unless there is someone else or another company with that title. A minor detail such as the colour of a doctor’s scrubs – green or blue – is not significant.
Numbers are usually significant factual errors and therefore corrected, especially when a million becomes a billion or vice versa. (And, yes, that happens.)
The numbers are down somewhat this year for paper and online corrections, by roughly 10 per cent. They were up about the same amount last year. I can’t explain these variations but the numbers year over year, unfortunately are pretty steady.
Most of the errors are caught by Globe staff, but our readers also help. In May, 2016, The Globe added a link to every online article asking readers to report a typo, error or concern. In those 31 months, we are closing in on 20,000 responses! The vast majority of these are for spelling, grammar and possible corrections. About 10 per cent are complaints of bias.
We read all of these notes and many of them, from smart Globe readers, are behind corrections. Here are a few of some obscure facts that weren’t caught and were corrected. See how you would do. The incorrect statements are first, and the corrections are below.
A) A travel feature on Paris said the Jardin d’Acclimatation was opened in 1860 by Napoléon Bonaparte.
B) An article on pedestrian deaths said kinetic energy increases exponentially with a linear increase in velocity
C) Leonard Cohen’s father was a Polish émigré.
D) An article on the Galapagos said British writer Ronald Blythe was deceased.
E) A Hudson Valley, N.Y., donkey named Honey.
F) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by C.S. Lewis.
G) An article on the Korean DMZ noted that the Lester Pearson government dispatched Canadian troops to the Korean Peninsula.
H) The Canadian Constitution Act of 1967.
1. It was Napoleon III, Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte.
2. In fact, kinetic energy increases in proportion to the velocity squared
3. Leonard Cohen’s great-grandfather was a Polish émigré.
4. Oops. No, Mr. Blythe was alive.
5. How could an editor know the donkey’s name was Suzy?
6. Nope, it was Lewis Carroll.
7. Mr. Pearson was foreign minister at the time, and Louis St. Laurent was prime minister.
8. That should be an easy one, although an embarrassing typo. It was 1867.
It’s easier to catch the mistakes when they are pointed out rather than dropped in the middle of a long article on a complex subject. Just imagine reading the entire paper every day and knowing there is at least one error each day. This in no way excuses the mistakes, and all journalists strive to be error-free, but honestly, I would not have caught all the mistakes above.
And most readers understand that in the millions of words printed, often on deadline, that The Globe will trip up. What really counts, as our reader said, is being open about your errors and fixing them.