I’m curious about how an error personally affects people. So for you, after having experienced something fairly traumatic in the first place, how did this mistake impact your state of mind and feeling?
Honestly, the unintended humor of the entire situation was a break from dealing with what had just happened. All the same, spending a good portion of my day trying to get in touch with the right folks at the paper was frustrating.
Did it impact your view of the paper?
I’d been reading this paper since I was a kid, the family subscription was even in my name for a while. A few years back, I interviewed for a position in the paper’s morgue. It gave me a great chance to meet the librarian and the managing editor there, both of whom where entirely helpful in addressing any questions I had. I’ve still got some faith in the paper, less than before, perhaps. But I wouldn’t trust that reporter to give correct movie times.
What bothered you most about the mistake?
How casual it seemed, the lack of follow-through, the laziness in checking sources. Anyone reading that bit who didn’t know the full story would take it as fact without thinking twice. I would expect a reporter to look at the story and perhaps have some curiosity about the “shooter” being charged with anything. My alleged actions certainly weren’t legal. For something like that in a busy newsroom, I honestly didn’t expect a call. But a second glance through the police report (or a good first one) would have saved us all some time. Like you said, the gun-toting description was what really put me over the edge.
Were you the person who reported the error to the paper? If so, what can you tell me about that process? Did you e-mail? Call? What was their reaction?
I called the reporter’s phone line, the call went to voicemail so I transferred over to the local desk. The gentleman there took my information, made a comment on “maybe we should talk to you about that…” when I mentioned both of the incidents, and then transferred me back to the reporter’s voice mail to leave a message. For any [journalists] you’re sharing this with “I check my messages… sometimes” is not something you want to have in your voicemail greeting.
A few hours later I got fed up with the situation and just called the managing editor, who, to his credit, answered his own phone on the second ring. After explaining the problem and having him read the section, his response was that the briefs were pulled from the police reports and the error was probably in that. That didn’t fly with me; I had the incident report number in hand and told him to look it up. The reporter later called me to say he was sorry and that the correction would be on A2 of the next day’s paper.
So then the correction appeared in the paper. Did that in your view repair things? Do you feel satisfied?
I’m glad it was there, I mean, I would have been cool with a bit more groveling on their part, but at least things were corrected. The reporter erred, it would have been nice to know that there was regret there as well. I’m not going to lie, part of the reason I sent this along to you was to encourage a bit of that regret.
Do you have any thoughts on how things could have been handled better?
Does “the reporter could have gotten it right” count? Mistakes happen, I know that I failed a few assignments in J-school for [major factual errors]. And I understand the editor’s need to protect his reporters. But attempting to immediately pass the buck on the mistake was a bit gauche. Even more so when you considered that I met the man, and I reminded him who I was when I called. If he thought that a guy with degrees in journalism and library science wouldn’t do the research, well, I don’t know what that says about a person. I suppose picking up the phone to hear, “Hi, your paper just accused me of attempted homicide” might throw a guy off. I haven’t checked the online story yet, but at the time the correction was printed, the brief had not been corrected, nor had an updated correction page been posted to the website. [Note: As of this writing, the brief remains uncorrected.]