Everyone makes mistakes. As a student journalist, I completely muffed the last name of a faculty member I was assigned to interview. (A few years later, I found myself working a PR job, with that guy as my supervisor. It’s a small world.)
So, with the full understanding that I am the pot calling the kettle black, and that what goes around comes around, for the benefit of my journalism students, here are some screenshots showing the impact of a simple headline error.
This morning, after hitting the snooze button for the last time, I saw this:
As you can see, the name of the school is correct in the body of the article, but I bet many people who noticed the error will think it was the reporter, Debra Duncan, who made the mistake.
I sent in a quick email correction notice, and was a bit grumpy when I blogged the story. When I got to work, I heard that the error was repeated in at least some of the print editions.
A few hours later, I saw the headline had changed:
I let our campus PR chief know about this; she said she would contact the paper’s education editor. Just before lunch, I noticed the page had been rectified to read:
As I understand it, at least some of the print editions also had the same error. One print run had the headline corrected, but the jump text still read Seton Hall.
It might seem that, because the online version of the article has now been corrected, the error no longer exists in the digital world, and is only a problem in the print edition; however, a Google search shows that the various blogs and news aggregation sites that have already spread the old headline are more numerous than the number of sites currently displaying the correct headline. This will have an impact on the way Google weighs searches for the related terms.
It seems that Google is smart enough to recognize the “Seton Hll” variant (below) as an error, but as you can see, even though it was only up for a few hours, this partially disemvoweled version also has a presence on the internet.
When an error happens, it’s human nature to point the finger. But everyone makes mistakes, which is why quality news sources have assignment editors, production managers, fact checkers, layout editors, and copy editors.
When I point out similar error that occur in the student paper, I often hear, “That story came in past deadline,” or “We were up late dealing with a different crisis,” or “I thought so-and-so had already checked that page.”
Whenever an error slips through, rather than point the blame at any one person, it’s most productive to examine the system. Were there enough checks and balances? Should a last-minute submission have been rejected and held for next time, rather than slapped into the paper? How can we consider changes to our editing process, so that we have enough time to catch such errors before publication?