Graphics and letters puzzle readers

During the past two weeks, Daily readers were angry about the crossword puzzle, puzzled by a graphic and graphic in their instructions about editing their letters to the editor.

Puzzling Matters

A self-described Daily crossword puzzle addict wrote to me on Wednesday, wondering if the Daily forgot to pay its crossword puzzle dues. This was followed by phone calls and e-mails from other readers with similar questions.
Anyone who opened Wednesday’s Daily to the crossword found the same puzzle that had run on Tuesday. The puzzle wasn’t difficult enough to warrant giving readers two chances at it, although I’m still trying to figure out “Reciprocal of a cosine.”
The Daily purchases crossword puzzles from a syndication service, which sends the paper two weeks worth of puzzles at a time. Each day’s puzzle is scanned into the computer and deposited into a computer “in-box,” from which it is retrieved by the production department and placed on the page. Finally, the puzzle is deleted from the computer.
The most likely explanation for this error is that the same puzzle was scanned and placed in the in-box two days in a row. Since each puzzle includes the previous day’s solution, the person scanning it in should have noticed the duplication.
Even though that didn’t happen, either the copy chief or the news editor, who make the final checks of the paper before it goes to the printer, should have caught the mistake. They didn’t, and I heard about it. Crossword puzzle fans take their daily ritual seriously and Daily staff members need to do the same.
This is the type of mistake that shouldn’t have happened in any newspaper, and certainly not in an award-winning one.

Graphic Errors

Tuesday’s Daily contained errors in a graphic outlining the capital bonding allocations. Although the figures were correct in the article, “Legislature grants $242.8 million to U,” the accompanying graphic contained inaccurate numbers.
A Daily reader pointed out the errors to me, and I was told by the editor in chief that the errors were noticed at the critique of the paper Tuesday morning and a correction was planned for Wednesday. The correction did not run in any issue last week.
Having spoken to several Daily editors, it seems that miscommunication and lack of follow-up were responsible for the oversight.
There was no willful disregard for the facts here, but there was sloppiness on several fronts. The numbers in the graphic should have been correct in the first place, and when the error was noticed a correction should have run immediately.

Editing Letters

Part of the Readers’ Representative’s job at the Daily is to select and edit the letters to the editor.
Letters are selected based on a number of criteria, with priority given to those regarding University issues and written by either a student, faculty or staff member. If a lot of letters on the same topic are submitted, as was the case with the protest against U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson’s speech at the Humphrey Center and the student fees lawsuit, I try to publish as many different views on the topic as possible.
A number of letter writers have recently sent their submissions with instructions that the letters not be cut, edited or altered before publication. I have also received complaints from authors who were upset that their letters were edited at the time of publication.
The instructions for letter submissions, which appear on the editorial page every day, explain the policy on editing. To reiterate, the Daily reserves the right to edit for libel, grammar and style. Letters are edited for libel so the Daily and the letter’s author aren’t sued. They are edited for grammar because some letters, despite our top-notch education, contain glaring errors that might detract from the point the author was trying to make. Finally, they are edited for style, which includes putting in the title of a news article referred to by the author, correcting capitalization, spelling out acronyms and making sure the letter will fit on the page.
In order to include as many different views as possible and still fit the section’s alloted space, letters are almost always cut for length. I make these cuts carefully and thoughtfully, with the goal of retaining the author’s voice and point of view.
The letters section should, and quite often does, serve as the voice of the University community. Some issues of concern to students, faculty and staff which were originally raised in a letter, have sparked further investigation by Daily reporters and ended up as news stories.
Writers are protective of their words. Most people who submit letters to the Daily are truly concerned about something and put tremendous effort into expressing their views, but despite their care, they sometimes make factual errors. The Daily has received letters by writers who have asserted that there is no biblical proscription against killing, or that American’s right to bear arms is protected by the Fourth Amendment. Without editing, these authors and the Daily would have been responsible for printing inaccurate information.
Every writer needs an editor. Anyone — reporter, columnist, letter writer or student working on a research paper — who believes his or her work doesn’t need editing is just plain wrong. Editors who have slashed and burned their way through my writing have earned my gratitude.
Writers who wish to send letters to the Daily with admonitions against editing are welcome to call me. Editors can be your biggest allies, and I’m happy to work with authors to try and make the cuts and edits as painless as possible.
Melodie Bahan’s column appears on alternate Mondays. She welcomes comments by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 627-4070 ext. 3282.