Errors abound in the last semester

Last semester, out of 69 issues of the Daily, we printed 71 pieces of innacurate information.

Tim Franzen

Chances are there is something incorrect in this newspaper. We at the Daily tried to keep it out, but it probably snuck in there somehow.

The Daily does not always get its facts right. Diligent readers know this, since they notice the corrections box buried – some might say hidden – on page two. On good days it only contains information about how to let me know we’ve printed something inaccurate (as well as how to complain if you don’t get what you want). On bad days, however, it will also tell you all about something we got wrong in a previous issue.

Last semester, out of 69 issues of the Daily, we printed 71 pieces of inaccurate information. Averaging just more than one error per issue, the Daily is not doing horribly, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Kate Parry, reader’s representative of the Star Tribune, recently published the number of corrections for her paper over the past year. While we average more than one correction per issue, the Star Tribune averages fewer than two per issue. It’s not easy to compare these numbers, since the size of each paper and the number of original stories in each is vastly different. But I think our number should be lower.

It is interesting to compare the types of errors that occur. In Parry’s column on Jan. 14, she writes that errors typically “aren’t complicated, they’re brain burps by someone working fast, often someone who knew the correct information or easily could have checked.” The same is true about errors at the Daily.

For example, one weekend the men’s hockey team played on Saturday and Sunday nights, instead of the standard Friday and Saturday nights. Out of habit, we incorrectly reported the nights of the games.

There isn’t one department responsible for the bulk of the corrections. The A&E reporters had the least, but they only publish once a week. The production team had the most, but it has the most responsibilities and is the last group to see the paper before it hits the presses.

Simple things account for most of the corrections we print, regardless of the department. However, when we don’t get the simple things right, it is tough to keep the readers’ trust in the big things.

In order to impress on the staff the amount, the scope and the severity of errors in the Daily, we held a meeting of the complete editorial staff (meaning all the newsroom, sports, A&E, opinions, photography, A/V and production employees). During the meeting the editor in chief Anna Weggel and I stood on chairs in front of about 60 employees and listed the corrections, all 71 of them, out loud.

Near the end, we asked the Daily staff to offer suggestions on how to improve the accuracy of this paper. Many excellent ideas were tossed around. Everyone from editors to reporters to columnists contributed to the fruitful discussion – some even risked embarrassment to offer their personal experiences with mistakes in order to help those around them.

One reporter suggested avoiding conference calls because the sound quality can be dreadful and result in hearing things incorrectly.

Another reporter shared personal experience and offered her advice to re-listen to every recorded interview to make sure quotes written down were exactly transcribed.

A columnist suggested never departing from the AP Stylebook, which provides writers and editors with a wealth of information.

Some even asked for more accountability – actually asking me to print the names of the people who messed up so that they would be even more worried about getting things wrong.

While the editors and I decided against the last idea, we are hoping to provide a more accurate newspaper this semester. We aren’t off to a stellar start because at the time of writing this, we’ve printed nine corrections and clarifications out of eight issues.

But I’m optimistic about this semester. I think we are moving in the right direction and we will be getting better every week we are in publication.

If you notice anything wrong, continue to e-mail me and let me know about it. If you don’t see inaccuracies, the Daily must be doing a better job.

Tim Franzen is the readers’ representative. He welcomes comments at [email protected]