behind the news

Facts and Fiction

A small literary magazine lists all of its mistakes—ever
May 21, 2010

Taddle Creek is a small literary magazine with big accuracy ambitions.

Back in 2007, the twice-a-year Canadian publication with a circulation of 1,500 published a slim but useful booklet, The Taddle Creek Guidebook to Fact-Checking Fiction. Over the course of eleven pages, it offers useful and at times amusing guidance for checking the factual parts of a fictitious account.

Under the guidance of editor-in-chief and publisher Conan Tobias, whose day job is managing editor of Canadian Business magazine, Taddle Creek has been diligent about checking the checkable for just about every issue of its existence. But Tobias recently realized that there had been an oversight under his watch.

“While the magazine’s track record in the accuracy game is strong, even a magazine with such a crack fact-checking department as Taddle Creek makes mistakes,” read a message recently posted on the magazine’s homepage. “It’s not something the magazine is proud of, but facts shows that it is impossible for a publication to be error-free one hundred per cent of the time, so Taddle Creek must trust its own research, however much it hurts.”

The result is an online corrections page where the magazine catalogues every known mistake over its last thirteen years of publishing, often hilariously. To wit:

The Christmas, 1997, issue—the magazine’s first—was eight-and-a-half inches wide by eleven inches high. It should be eight inches wide by ten-and-three-quarter inches high, just like all the rest. The magazine knew better, but somehow, inexplicably, it still happened. Chalk it up to gross stupidity. Taddle Creek regrets the error.

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The Christmas, 1997, and Christmas, 1998, issues were not fact-checked in any kind of trustworthy way. They should have been. Taddle Creek wasn’t yet at the top of its game. Readers are cautioned not to believe a word in these issues without proper verification. Taddle Creek regrets the error.

In Andrew Loung’s biography in the Christmas, 1999, issue, the name of the journal Ça Met Égal was spelled without accents. Taddle Creek could not find a copy of or contact information for this obscure journal in those days of information superhighway infancy, so it asked Andrew if he was really, really, sure of the spelling, and to please look at a copy to be super-extra sure. He swore there were no accents. The twenty-first-century Web calls you a liar, Mr. Loung! Taddle Creek regrets the error.

They’re all worth reading. As Canadian journalist Doug Saunders tweeted, “Here’s how to do corrections: Run them once every 13 years, correcting everything from misplaced periods to crap issues.”

It’s certainly one way to get people to read your corrections (which should always be the goal). But Tobias is also dedicated to his goal of accuracy. He started at Canadian Business as a fact checker and worked his way up. He also played a big role in bringing the discipline to Taddle Creek.

“There are facts in fiction as well, and it’s perfectly valid [to check them],” he says. “… If you have a real world name in there you want to have it right. Why have it wrong?”

As for the corrections, he says he realized it was time for the magazine to provide a place for them online and in its editions. The next issue, which hits newsstands in Canada and in select U.S. cites on June 1, includes a note about the corrections and a few of the ones listed on the site.

“I’m happy to say that a lot of the errors listed are for absurd stuff … there have not been a lot of errors that I know of in the magazine,” he says. “It is serious business and it is something we will keep up. The corrections are there because it’s the right thing to do … But there’s no reason a correction page has to be boring.”

Agreed. With that in mind, I’ll share two suitable entries from the Taddle Creek corrections collection:

In the most ironic of errors, the title of “Proofreader” was spelled as “Proof Reader” from the summer, 2003, issue through to the Christmas, 2005, issue, even though the magazine’s style is the former. The magazine thinks it knows who best to blame . . . . Taddle Creek regrets the error.

The magazine’s summer, 2006, editorial referred incorrectly to The Taddle Creek Guidebook to Fact-Checking Fiction as The Taddle Creek Guidebook to Fact-checking Fiction. Taddle Creek must have been ill when it let such an egregious hyphenation/capitalization error slip by. Taddle Creek regrets the error.

Correction of the Week

“In an article on February 3, we implied two thirds of Haitians drank goats’ blood while practising voodoo. We are happy to make clear this is not the case.” – The Sun (U.K.)

Craig Silverman is currently BuzzFeed's media editor, and formerly a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.