A few good rules for dealing with mistakes
Mistakes are a big part of our business, and we have a few rules for dealing with them.
Our people write about other people at high speed on short, absolute deadlines, and that’s a recipe for occasional mistakes to make it into print among the thousands of stories and millions of words we publish every year.
Rule No. 1 is simple and obvious — we say we’re sorry. A typographical error producing a wrong number doesn’t usually rise to the level of apology, but if we name the wrong person as being arrested, you can bet we’ll say we’re sorry — in person, in print, from the rooftops if need be.
Rule No. 2 is to publish corrections at our first opportunity and in a consistent place in the newspaper so people know where to find them.
Rule 3 gets a bit tricky at times: Don’t repeat the mistake when publishing the correction.
Here’s a live example of Rule 3 from right here, last week, when I misnamed a business connected to a particular political organization. We were tempted to break the “don’t repeat” policy because the mistake had an almost Freudian slip quality to it, but we followed the basic rule with this correction: “An incorrect agency name was listed in Friday’s News-Register as the recipient of campaign money from the Oregon Family Farm Association PAC. The money went to George Advertising, Inc., owned by state Sen. Larry George.”
After that, the rules get fuzzier.
Letter-writers, citizens at public meetings, even public officials can make mistakes. When we report those statements accurately, the errors get attributed to us. We catch and quietly correct many such situations, but a few still slip into print. It can be awkward, you might imagine, to apologize on behalf of someone else.
Of course, sometimes we disagree with someone as to whether the “mistake” really is a mistake. That leads to plenty of interesting “he said/she said” discussions with readers.
The Internet, with accessible online archives, creates a new world of challenges related to mistakes. Sometimes, we simply correct a wrong number online without further comment; sometimes we make a correction and add an editor’s note drawing attention to the error that appeared in print. It varies with the situation.
In the end, it involves learning to accept that errors are human, and it’s all about how you deal with them. Kind of like life.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at email@example.com or 503-687-1223.