The war on error

I disgraced myself at the pub quiz last night.

We had a tie break riding on a bizarre question about exactly how many errors were found in one record-breakingly bad five-and-a-half column story in the Times in 1978.

Clearly, all eyes in my team of neighbours were on me.

I opted for the rather modest answer of 21, perhaps unconsciously trying not to blacken the reputation of our profession.

The answer was something like 90, with the other team in our head-to-head coming far closer, with a guess of 107.

For the life of me, I have no idea how so many errors can possibly creep in to one piece of writing.

Part of me’s quite impressed.

A greater part of me is delighted to have one more argument against the notion that there was some kind of golden era of journalism, when accuracy, ethics, investigative ability and writing were at Olympian levels of excellence.

We have always made mistakes.

And I’m sure we’ve always beaten ourselves up about them. Reporters should have a slightly sick feeling when they get a name or date wrong.

But I would also say we have never been more up-front about our errors.

We are held to account by an army of armchair subs, and many of our papers have organised corrections and clarifications columns.

We no longer resist corrections with every bone in our body, and IPSO’s procedures now force us to try to build bridges with complainants.

At the end of the day, experience helps build a sixth sense for spotting cock-ups – the street that doesn’t sound right, the name that looks wrong and the missing detail in a court case.

One of my challenges is to speed up the development of that internal alarm bell system, and to help all writers get better at reading their work through new and critical eyes.

In the mean time, I’ve been trying to find out more about that error-strewn piece from 37 years ago.

I can find no mention of it anywhere online.

So maybe the whole thing was a ghastly mistake.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s