Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Correction passes first test

The Log has a candidate for Correction of the Year, courtesy of Media Blog: the "30,000 pigs floating down the Dawson River" that turned out to be, um, "30 sows and pigs."

Potentially the awsumest telephone error of all time, unless your first reaction -- like mine -- was the tale of "two sows and 25 pigs" (shown here from The Rotarian, December 1955). Adding to the suspicion, there's no date, Australia's a pretty big place to have only one "Australia's Morning Bulletin," and the only person sharing the piggery owner's name in the database the Morning Bulletin link goes to seems to be a race horse owner.

Media Blog asks, quite plausibly:

It is a little surprising that the reporter didn't think to check. "Crikey, that's a lot of a pigs mate, are you sure you mean 30,000?". Similarly, if they really thought there were 30,000 pigs floating down the river, why did they only put it on page 11?

Ah, but now it starts to make sense, because -- if this link indeed reflects the Bully's original story -- the source didn't say it:

Mr Everingham said: "We've lost probably about 30,000 pigs in the floods, we tried to get as many weaners and suckers out by boat, but we could only save about 70 weaners ...

Some pigs were "lost ... in the floods," and apparently some undetermined subset of those pigs ended up in the river. But the
30,000 pigs floating pork shoulder to pork shoulder down the river sounds like a bit of repertorial filigree.

Absent the actual, physical sight of the waterborne pink legions of death, then, shouldn't the reporter have at least done a double-take at the 30,000 figure? I'd like to hope so, but we're asking more than we might think. The relative value of pigs -- where they stand on a scale of, say, white mice to thoroughbreds -- isn't exactly the sort of frame every reporter has access to right out of J-school. And the source seems to have been pretty matter-of-fact, so the reporter didn't get a cue about the scale of the event that way. (Think of it as the tone of voice that goes with a thousand-dollar loss, rather than a million-dollar loss.*) I'm starting to find it pretty plausible.

Over to you, antipodean readers: Has anyone seen the original in print?

* Dollars and pigs not to scale.



Blogger K Strayhorn said...

Speaking of phone errors, I remember when "human race horses" turned out to be "human resources."

That that was a long time ago in a newspaper far, far away.

2:18 PM, February 09, 2011  
Anonymous raYb said...

That smells a bit funny. I've done some pork-based agriculture reporting and recall swine farmers lumping their livestock into a single lump, so to speak: hogs. Small operators might well count sows a bigger loss and separate them out in the tally, but I'd look a mite closer before accepting this as reality. Most of us remember the cockroach and the exploding toilet.

12:58 PM, February 10, 2011  
Anonymous Stilgherrian said...

While I haven't sighted the original on a slice of dead tree, this was reported on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's highly-respected program Media Watch on 7 February 2011, citing the source as The Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton the day before. Media Match is known for its meticulous fact-checking.

2:21 PM, February 12, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Language Log now has a scan of the print version as an update to the article.

There's not really anything suspicious about the newspaper name -- Australia has a smaller population than, say, Texas, so it's quite reasonable that there is only one paper called The Morning Bulletin. Many Australian papers don't have any indication of their region in their name, eg The Age, of Melbourne, or The Daily Telegraph, of Sydney.

3:15 PM, February 13, 2011  

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