Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When you've got 'em by the bells ...

Here's the sort of correction that -- given time, luck and a mandate to be skeptical -- a desk is often able to head off:

An article on Saturday about the rise of the Arizona Cardinals in the N.F.L. after years of poor play and questionable front-office decisions misidentified, in some editions, the man who bought the team for $50,000 in 1932. He was Charles Bidwill — not his son Bill, who is the current owner. The article also misidentified a former job held by one of Bill Bidwill’s sons, Michael, who is the team president. He was once a ball boy, not a bellboy.

The basic numbers rule is whenever you see two numbers, you should do something to them. With historical events, there's always a second number: the present. So somebody bought the team 76 years ago. Let's be utterly arbitrary and assume that people under 21 don't buy football teams. So that'd make the owner ("as quiet, reserved and well versed in football as his trademark bow tie would suggest") 97. The point of having a specialized desk -- of not making your business desk edit sports, or your World In Crisis desk edit the food section -- is to have people around who know whether the Cards are the team with the 97-year-old owner.

The second one's a bit trickier, partly because it's simply impractical for the desk to question every last fact a writer asserts in a news story. But your old friend the maxim of relevance is there to help. If indeed Dad was 97, "bellboy" wouldn't have been impossible, but what's it doing there? Weirdest job the kid ever held, or evidence that he actually performed manual labor outside his dad's organization, or ...? Was the bell desk where Junior learned about the seedy life of sports stars? If so, where'd he bell? Or is this just some kind of telephone error for some more likely job held by someone growing up in a football family?

Since you already have the writer on the line ("Just checking -- you meant old Charlie's son Bill, not Charlie himself, right?"), you might as well ask about the hotel too. And you can hang up with the grateful writer's thanks* echoing in your ears, having kept another correction out of the paper.

* HAHAHAHA! Kidding.

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Anonymous raYb said...

Rather a comedy of errors how much wrong can be pushed into a feature. As for "bellboy," I'd vote for a lack of concentration while running a spellcheck. It's one of those things that just happens when you aren't watching what you're doing.

10:50 AM, January 15, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Hmm, true. Windows (Vista, at least, but surely you aren't letting that thing call the shots in the Last Homely House) will suggest turning 'ballboy' to 'bellboy' -- but shouldn't something about 'never accept changes' be on the Times's editing test? Any readers positioned to comment?

11:50 PM, January 16, 2009  

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