Is it always worth a correction?

04/05/2014 5:55 PM

04/05/2014 5:55 PM

The first caller I spoke to last Wednesday was laughing as I picked up the phone. “Why did (The Kansas City Star) feel like it was necessary to run this goofy correction today?” he asked between chuckles.

He was referring to a correction that day on Page A2 telling readers that a story about vintage toys in the FYI section last December used a photo of a Hot Wheels 1967 Mustang to illustrate a mention of a 1968 Camaro.

“Wouldn’t you say that’s a little bit trivial?” asked the reader. And I can’t say I disagree, particularly since the mistake occurred months ago.

But should an error go uncorrected simply because it concerns a minor detail? I weigh questions such as these often.

The Star’s corrections policy is pretty simple: Errors are corrected, usually on Page A2. There are certain exceptions, though.

When an error appears in a section that goes only to some geographic areas, the correction usually appears in the next edition of that section.

An exception is made when a time element requires the record to be set straight before the next section is published. In those cases, it runs on the daily Page A2.

Errors in agate (listings in small type such as sports stats) or calendar items are usually corrected by re-running the item in the next set of listings.

Again, there are certain exceptions, especially if an event noted wrongly in a weekly calendar takes place before the next calendar would run.

As I look back on corrections that have run on Page A2 over the past few months, I do see a few that I’m sure some readers found too fiddly. A listing about a movie showing used the wrong first name for a character from the film, for example.

These recent corrections point up to me that The Star has been more careless than usual with names in recent months. I see multiple corrections to public figures’ names in particular — a journalistic deadly sin (and one that should be especially easy to avoid in the Internet age).

One such error was pointed out by an emailer reading the March 24 Sports Daily. She noted a wire brief on the Arnold Palmer Invitational referred to golfer Adam Scott by the first name “Luke.”

That one’s a no-brainer: It required a correction — and the reader who first pointed it out wasn’t the only one. It confused two other golf fans who contacted me.

But another error in the same section didn’t rise to that level. In the agate listings of the tournament’s scores, Henrik Stenson’s last name lost its final letter.

There, two things led to my decision not to correct it: First, it was in agate. And more importantly, nobody who follows golf would be confused by what was obviously a typo. That’s not the case with the confusion of Scott’s first name.

Whether to run a correction or not usually comes down to one bottom-line question: Did the mistake fundamentally impede or change the reader’s comprehension of what was published?

Readers alert me to minor errors almost every day. They’re unfortunately inevitable in a newspaper where millions of words are printed on tight deadlines and never published again.

But if I were to insist on running a correction on Page A2 every time an editor let “pour” slip by when it should have been “pore,” that would quickly devalue the concept and import of a corrections column.

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