When journalists make a mistake…

Req: A, E, G, NTimes-Tribune stories

One of the best things about being a journalist is that most of your triumphs appear on the front page of the newspaper. Unfortunately, some of your biggest mistakes end up there too.

As John H. Williams puts it, a journalist’s psychology…

…is not unlike that of pro football linemen: half paranoid, half manic-depressive, worn down from too many hours in the trenches, beset by Monday morning quarterbacks and afraid to see the game films. Our game films are shown every morning…

One such game film appeared in Scranton’s Times-Tribune Wednesday.

The “one star” downvalley suburban edition (right, top) carried a headline that read “Paterno benches to players for Saturday.” Although the Times-Tribune editors picked up on the flub in time to correct it for the “two star” city edition (right, bottom), the error drew the attention of local radio talk show hosts Nancy Kman and Kevin Lynn, who asked on air whether or not the Times-Tribune couldn’t find a “sixth grader” to review the copy.

Everyone makes mistakes, but when a journalist makes a mistake it’s there for everyone to see. It’s worth noting that the Times Leader also had at least one front page flub on the same day (see below).

Times Leader story with error

As great a problem as “et,” from my point of view, is the Times Leader‘s decision to use a word like “exorbitant” (paragraph 3) without quotation marks. Exorbitant is a loaded word meaning either “not coming within the scope of the law” or “exceeding the customary or appropriate limits.” As such, it’s best used in quotation marks to clarify that the dozen protesters believe the spending is out of line and that the newspaper is neither endorsing this as fact nor rendering its own opinion.

The “$17.4 billion” is a bit confusing too. The U.S. government has spent more than $500 billion on the war. The $17.4 billion figure probably refers an estimate of the portion paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers. That estimate comes from Foreign Policy in Focus, a liberal think tank.

Ah, the wonders a five minute Internet search can produce in terms of illuminating a news story. Of course, I’d still call the protesters to make sure that’s what they actually meant, — assuming the Times Leader got the figure from the protesters in the first place, which is not clear in the article. I’d also cite the source of the estimate to provide more context for my readers.

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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.



August 2007
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