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public editor

Globe and Mail readers are smart and accomplished people and I’m grateful when they point out errors, from the obscure to the obvious.

From time to time, though, a few see errors as partisan or conspiratorial, when in reality, these mistakes are no more than the result of haste or inattention to detail.

One reader was not convinced.

“I am a long-time subscriber to the Globe and Mail … I just want to draw your attention to the ‘Detailed Election Results’ page in this morning’s Alberta edition of The Globe and Mail. In the initial, opening explanatory box that lists party abbreviations and expansions (such as “NDP: New Democratic Party”), the following expansion was given:

PPC: Pirate Party of Canada.

This is a deliberate slur by one of your editors and/or page layout staff against the People’s Party of Canada. It cannot be explained away as an auto-correct typo, or a simple spelling mistake…”

Actually, it was none of the above. There was a Pirate Party during the last election, but given the lack of success of that original PPC, it is no more.

The editors putting together this year’s election results used the old legend for 2015, not noticing that it included some defunct parties, such as the Accountability, Competency, Transparency party or the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party or our friends, the Pirates.

It was a simple oversight – and they frankly happen too often.

As with all significant factual errors, we correct these in the paper and on digital platforms. And when those corrections are made, I hear from reporters or editors who are embarrassed that they made an often stupid mistake.

Over the past few years that I’ve been keeping track of the number and type of errors, the total per year is more than 400. This year is no different and, as always, names (spelling and titles) and numbers account for the greatest number of errors, which is frustrating because they could have been easily caught.

More errors appear on our digital platform because there is more material there generally, and, since some articles are published there first, they can be corrected online before appearing in the paper.

But back to our readers, who are an erudite and well-educated group who catch even fairly minor errors.

One of my favourite readers noted a December column that mentioned Canada’s role in exploring the world. A fascinating piece, but this reader noted: “In the article, it is ‘Pierre Gaultier de Varennes.’ His full name is ‘Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et (sieur) de La Vérendrye’ and that’s where the problem crept. Ask just about any French Canadian about de Varennes and they will tell you about a small town between Montréal and Sorel, on the south shore. You know any famous Canadian named de Varennes? No. Ask them about La Vérendrye and everyone will tell you: of course, the first [European] guy to see the Rockies. The article just confused the hell out of most francos and gives anglos information they will never be able to use.”

Another reader noted that a story incorrectly located a garbage dump in Nigeria, although the photo depicted the Dandora Landfill in Nairobi, Kenya.

There was one who noted the wrong debt-to-GDP ratio in Newfoundland and Labrador and another who corrected the height of a winning pole-vault jump. And this wire story, which said: “production of 1,137 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) to 1,207 boepd next year, [was] higher than the 1,087-1,146 boepd it estimates for 2019…" Turns out, the actual production is 1,137 thousand boepd.... The wire corrected, as did The Globe.

Now, how many people know these things? That’s the thing about Globe readers. It’s something I tell new reporters: There is always someone reading your work who is an expert in the field who knows much more than you do.

Of course, there are the obvious head-slappers that someone, even someone without a PhD, should have caught, such as publishing the wrong date of the federal election or describing Prince Charles as the grandfather of four boys.

And then just last Saturday, a photo caption added an extra letter to Jolly Old St. Nick’s name as Santa Clause. Oops!

But, from the obvious to the arcane, if errors are significant (and all names are significant), they will be corrected as quickly as possible. And thanks again to those who quickly point them out.

Editor’s note: The word European has been added to this article for clarity.