Making and learning from mistakes

It was a call I really didn’t need that day.Dave Wolk, president of Castleton State College, was on the other line asking me about the editing process of the Spartan – and with good reason.

A front page story on a proposal by Gov. Jim Douglas to merge the state schools with UVM had a quote from the governor incorrectly attributed to Wolk.

He was irritated, clearly.
I was mortified.

As it turns out, the reporter had the comment right and in the editing process of shuffling paragraphs, it got changed.

That stuff happens with newspapers. People in every profession make mistakes on a daily basis that are quietly taken care of in an office or via a telephone call. But when a newspaper makes one – lots of people see it and it’s magnified.

What’s unfortunate is that for this particular issue of The Spartan, the staff’s effort was probably the best it has been in my tenure here.

Most stories were in by deadline. The designers had the pages laid out well before our 5 p.m. deadline to ship it to the printer – which never happens. And because of their efforts, my editing class, as an in-class exercise, actually went over the paper page by page and found tons of little mistakes that were corrected.
And they caught the incorrect reference to Wolk, which at the time only said “Wolk said” after the quote – without having first introduced him in the story.

One student, according to other students in class, even suggested that it sounded more like a Douglas comment than from Wolk. I apparently was thinking ahead to other lessons or something because it didn’t register with me.

So we corrected the first reference issue, feeling good that we had caught a mistake.
Wolk, after the initial call, was gracious and understanding about the mistake. I, however, didn’t feel much better about it.

I want all facts to be accurate in The Spartan and in every newspaper. Journalism needs us to get it right. But realistically, we’re going to err occasionally. Just know that the Spartan staff strives for 100 percent accuracy.

Oh, and as an aside, one great thing about modern media is that the Web site version of the story on – read by nearly 3,000 people on the day the paper comes out — was corrected immediately so they all read it with accurate attribution.

-David Blow
Journalism Professor & Castleton Spartan Advisor.

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