Friday, June 03, 2005

Corrections that don't

Couple of thoughts on the ongoing struggle to get stuff right and keep it that way:

1) From Thursday's 1A: "A story on page 1A Wednesday about W. Mark Felt being identified as 'Deep Throat' in the Watergate scandal included incorrect information about the status of President Nixon at the time he left office. Felt's information led to Nixon's impeachment investigation and eventual resignation."

For starters, that's significantly more information than the poor reader needs to identify the offending story. Only one article on 1A Wednesday included information about Tricky's status in August 1974. Pare the first sentence down to "An article (please, not "a story"; haven't we been over this?) on page 1A Wednesday included incorrect information about the status of President Nixon at the time he left office."

Second, we have us sort of a basic non sequitur here. The first sentence is about Nixon's status. The second is about what Mark Felt's information allegedly did, and there's no indication of what the two have to do with each other. This is one of the rare cases in which it's best to repeat the error before correcting it: "Nixon was not impeached, though the House Judiciary Committee had recommended three articles of impeachment against him in the weeks before he resigned."

Third, corrections are about facts, not opinions. We're welcome to believe that Felt's information brought Nixon down if we want, but that's sort of like arguing that Ronnie Reagan won the Cold War single-handedly: A narrow view that overlooks a bunch of other evidence and strongly suggests the sort of ideological bias that would call into question the holder's ability to select and present facts. Put another way, if you want people to believe your science reporting, don't put MOON MADE OF GREEN CHEESE on the #$^#^&%$ front page.

2) Win some, lose some: Nice work by the Thursday night guest crew, catching the misspelling of the US ambassador to Lebanon's family name. Alas, in the process of correcting that, we managed to un-spell his first name. Two plays for a net gain of zero yards. At the end of the sequence, there's still a misspelled name in the paper. Urk.

3) Get to the point: People aren't going to nod off and forget that they're reading a correction just because we blitz 'em with needless words. Case in point:

"An obituary on page 2A Thursday included an incorrect spelling of the last name of Carol Jean McClanahan."

What's wrong with:
"An obituary on page 2A Thursday misspelled Carol Jean McClanahan's name"
"Carol Jean McClanahan's name was misspelled in an obituary on page 2A Thursday"?

Let's not have too much nitpicking about whether an obit can misspell on its own. If the Washington Post can "say" (1A Thursday), an obit can spell. Well, some obits can spell.


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