Monday, May 15, 2023

Fixing the blame

 Thirty years ago, under John S. Carroll, The Baltimore Sun refined its policy on corrections. Because production of the paper was a collective effort, The Sun took collective responsibility when errors of fact made it into print, not assigning individual responsibility. The Sun regretted the error, and that was that. 

The one exception: A correction assigned responsibility when The Sun had been given erroneous information. 

Reporters disliked this policy and regularly groused about it. Their complaint, and it was reasonable, went like this: "It's my byline on the story, and when a reader sees a correction that doesn't include 'because of an editing error,' the reader thinks I made a mistake, and it reflects badly on me."

The response to that complaint was that the reader is more concerned with the accuracy of the story than with naming and shaming in the newsroom. If there were to be a "because of an editor's error" correction or a "because of a copy editor's error" correction, why not a "because of reporter's error" correction? Guess which category would be most numerous. 

My own perspective after forty years of editing reporters' copy is that the correction policy left them with undeserved blame for mistakes they did not make. At the same time, my work and the desk's work left them with undeserved merit for more accurate and more literate writing than they in fact produced. 

Consider it a wash.