Public Editor

Correcting a squishy number?

Updated: 2013-09-30T22:20:37Z

In my almost decade-long tenure monitoring The Star’s accuracy, I can tell you sincerely that I’ve found the journalists I’ve approached about problems in their work want to get things right. I can recall only one instance where a Star staffer (who departed the paper years ago) argued against a correction that I thought was warranted. I won that contest, by the way.

But there are times when something probably should have been stated differently, yet I don’t think a correction is justified.

The Page A-1 centerpiece Sunday looked at how the Great Recession has affected Americans in different age demographics. Almost all of what I’ve heard from readers about the piece has been positive, with several people saying they saw themselves reflected in some of the examples.

But one reader objected to a definition in the segment on baby boomers. It described that group as “a diverse demographic of nearly 80 million born between roughly 1946 and 1962.”

My emailer wrote: “I noticed an error in the definition of baby boomer generation dates (which) should be 1946 - 1964.”

She is correct that 1946-1964 is probably the most-cited definition of that baby boom, at least on the free Web. A Nexis search shows it’s common in other publications.

But there are many counter-examples as well. And there are government sources that even contradict themselves internally.

My inclination here is that of one of the reporters I discussed the topic with: There’s no official era-naming agency in charge of such things. The Associated Press style book doesn’t address it.

So would there be any point to a correction saying an era defined as “roughly” between these years is more often pegged to another end date?

Not to me. That would be an example of overzealous “correction” that would contribute to devalue the seriousness of the concept.

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