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You Don't Say

News You Don't Say

Just put the sausage in the casing and move on

At Poynter today we find an item about how far a newspaper correction should go

An editor at the Toronto Star inserted an error into a reporter's article. The correction identified the error but not who perpetrated it, and the newspaper's ombudsman, Kathy English, has commented on the matter, suggesting that greater transparency would be appropriate. 

The Star, like many newspapers, takes collective responsibility for what it publishes and does not go in for finger-pointing when it corrects errors. Ms. English acknowledges that there is merit in this approach, writing: "In the past, I have been on the fence in this debate between reporters and editors. I understand why reporters regard the policy as unjust at times, but I also know that editors 'save' reporters far more often than they insert errors into their work. And studies indicate readers care more that an error is corrected than about who was responsible."

But in encouraging further discussion of the policy, she writes: "Is it time to reconsider this policy and provide readers with a fuller picture of the reality that the reporter whose name is on the article isn’t always at fault? In this age of Twitter transparency does it make sense to withhold critical facts about who is responsible for mistakes?"

For my part, a case-by-case evaluation of the severity of the error and the actual or potential damage to the reporter would serve the paper better than an abandonment of a sensible policy. 

But if Ms. English wants greater transparency at the paper, let's look at what transparency might do to that polite fiction, the byline. 

Reporter A gets a tip from fellow reporter B, makes several telephone calls and drafts an article that includes several paragraphs of background information taken verbatim from a previously published article by reporter C. Assigning editor D goes over the article, rewriting the opening paragraph and reorganizing several paragraphs in the body. Supervising editor E. takes the story, recasts the opening paragraph again and makes further changes in the text, in some cases reversing edits by D. When E moves the story to the copy desk, copy editor F corrects the spelling of names and makes a number of adjustments in the grammar and usage. F moves the story to the slot, where slot editor G removes a cliche from that opening paragraph and smooths out a number of other infelicities. Then supervising editor H, who has only just looked at the story, takes it back for further revisions, which then have to be checked by F and G. G prints out a page proof, and copy editor I, reading proof, suggests further changes, some of which G accepts. 

Transparency demands that A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and I get credit for their work, leading to a list of credits at the end of the story so long that some of the text has to be cut so the story will fit on the page. There is, however, a link to the article online, where the reader can consult a variorum edition, from A's ur-text to the final published version, and choose the one he or she prefers. 

The next day, a reader complains about an obvious and egregious error in the article that no one from A to I noticed. 

Whom do you identify as responsible in the correction?



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