Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hello, sailor!

Today's editing lesson: Always do the arithmetic. Always. Even if you have to work the numbers out yourself. Even if they're in a column. Even if it's a holiday.

Roderick Davison Scattergood of Cornelius died Dec. 27, 2007. ... He was 86 and had joined the Navy in 1930, just out of high school.
Both the potential next-door errors here are plausible ("1930" could be a slip for either 1939 or 1940), so you can't fix it without checking. But you have to check, because people don't join the Navy when they're 9 years old.

This next one might be worth exploring too, but ...

She learned that his mom sent him 2,000 cigarettes a month during some of his POW years and that he used them like money.

Friends and neighbors, that's a lot of smokes -- more than three packs a day, which is hard to square with the image of privation that POW camps conjure up for those of us who know them from movie and TV representations. But with a bit of digging (say, R.A. Radford's "The economic organisation of a P.O.W. camp" (Economica, November 1945, pp. 189-201)), you have to wonder if this fellow wasn't just one of the ones whose families' generosity enabled the occasional disruption of the cigarette-based economy by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of cigarettes "in the space of a fortnight."

It's nice when editors have time to look stuff up on their own. It'd be even nicer if journalism had the luxury of tracking folks like this down for occasions other than their deaths. At the least, though, let's spare ourselves the correction and do the math before the story runs, rather than after.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous raYb said...

From the reporter's standpoint, I can tell you where some of these errors come from. You go in with a notepad and an interview. You have maybe an hour, more likely half that, to learn all about somebody. The family tells you some or all those things and you don't do the math while you're sitting there, worse, don't do it at your desk. That's no excuse, just a "W" or an "H" on the error.

8:07 AM, January 03, 2008  
Blogger kskrick said...

I suppose that I am grateful that someone has read the article that was written about my father after his passing. I am surprised that there is someone out that that takes the time to scurtinize such articles. Our family was grateful that the writter saw something of interest from the standard obituary.
I did see the mistake in the date in the article, but honestly just focused on someone acknowledging what our family has always known that my dad was a very special person. No, he did not join the Navy in 1930 at the age of 9, but in 1939. What matters is that in early 1942, while flying over the North Sea his plane went down and he was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent more than three years in 10 different prison camps. For the early part of his imprisonment his mother and his grandmother did not know if he was alive or dead. If they overcompnesated by sending large quantities of cigarettes, so be it.
My dad was a very private man who never exploited his experience. It was only in the later years that he would even speak of it.
My brothers and sisters and I are very proud that he was our dad. He will be sorely missed by us, by our children and by my grandchildren. I wish you could have seen past the inconsistencies in the article to the passing of my remarkable father.
Kathleen

9:03 PM, January 03, 2008  

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