External fact checkers often have different motives. Powell is looking to land a copy editing job. When I got him on the phone yesterday, Robert Reed, the man who recently sent me a stack of clippings, told me he does it because he wants his local paper to meet a higher standard.
Reed began tracking his paper’s errors two years ago after reading an editorial decrying a new practice that restricted press photographers to a specific area when covering high school athletics.
“[The paper was] criticizing this policy and they made it sound like readers were being deprived by not being allowed to see photos from the best vantage point,” said Reed, a former school teacher and retired mass transit administrator. “I thought it was ironic because readers are really being cheated on the quality of journalism in the paper due to all the typos and factual errors.”
Roughly every month, Reed, sixty-seven, sends editors at the paper his latest collection of errors and typos. He’s occasionally heard back from individual reporters and editors, but his missives are usually met with silence. No doubt people in the Herald & Review newsroom don’t look forward to receiving the monthly envelope from one Robert S. Reed. But he keeps sending them in the hope that the examples will help the paper improve its copy editing. He’d also like to see them correct their errors with more frequency.
How often does he see a correction for an error he’s spotted?
“They publish a correction probably less than one percent of the time,” he says. (That number isn’t too far off the findings of a landmark 2007 corrections study by Scott Maier at the University of Oregon.)
Reed says he watches TV and reads news online, but relies on the paper as his “primary source of information about what’s going on locally and internationally.” The Herald & Review is the only daily in Decatur. He’s got no other choice. So out comes the red pen…
“I’m doing it to make them aware of how they need to improve their proofreading and the quality of their journalism,” he says.
Of course, a careful reader like him is acutely aware of the likelihood of that happening at any newspaper in today’s economy. Reed starts talking about the falling share price of the paper’s owner, Lee Enterprises. He mentions the debt the company took on to purchase the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Falling advertising.
“With these kinds of financial pressures, I think we’re going to see less attention paid to quality and error checking,” he says.
That means more work for him.
“It is sort of a habit,” he says, “and it’s probably something I’ll continue to do.”
Correction of the Week
“This article was amended on Tuesday 20 January 2009. In our entry on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days, we referred to a Prairie Ho Companion; we meant a Prairie Home Companion. This has been corrected.” – The Guardian (U.K.)
“A story on residential schools payments that appeared in yesterday’s National Post, and was provided by the Canwest News Service, incorrectly attributed quotes to Brenda Reynolds. All of the quotes attributed to Ms. Reynolds, regarding deaths in British Columbia and recipients’ reactions to the payments, were made by Sharon Thira of the Indian Residential Schools Survival Society. Ms. Reynolds, a psychologist who works with former residential school students, did not make any comments for this story. Canwest News Service regrets the error.” – National Post (Canada)
“FOLLOWING our article on 16 November which stated that Heather Mills had recently had a third boob job Heather Mills has asked us to point out that she has not had breast enlargement surgery. Furthermore, we wish to clarify that Ms Mills has not spent pounds 1million on a swimming pool and has not spent pounds 6million on other properties.” – Sunday Mirror (U.K.)