By Sam Pollak
The Daily Star
---- — Every newspaper editor I know has the same philosophy about ghastly mistakes.
We much prefer them to be made by somebody else’s newspaper.
It’s not a matter of schadenfreude, that wonderful German word meaning the enjoyment one might obtain from the troubles and suffering of others. No, editors are far too noble a breed for that kind of pettiness.
Rather, it’s not unlike being one of a herd of wildebeests making its way across the Serengeti, glancing toward the high grass and seeing a pride of lions munching on one of your wildebeest buddies. You shrug — assuming wildebeests do, in fact, shrug.
“Hmmm …” you say vacantly to the nearest member of the herd as you trudge along. “Looks like they got Ernie.”
Unfortunate for Ernie, of course, but you’re really, really happy that the lions chose him instead of you.
On a human level, it’s similar to those of us who occasionally go a smidgen over the speed limit. We look in our rearview mirror and see a police car with its strobe lights going like crazy … and the cop pulls over someone else.
That pretty much sums up my sentiments when I see something horrendous in some other paper. I’m glad it wasn’t mine … but I know that no matter how diligent I might be, it’s only a matter of time until I’m the wildebeest providing a nutritious lunch for some hungry lions.
It has become my custom to devote my first column of the year to the mistakes this newspaper has made over the previous 12 months. To be clear, they are the errors we knew about and for which we wrote corrections. If we are like most papers, we are only aware of a small percentage of the things we get wrong.
Still, I’m proud to be part of the only industry I know that makes a genuine effort to find out what we screw up, and then owns up to it in front of thousands of people the next day.
For the record, The Daily Star ran 114 corrections in 2013. That was seven more than in 2012, and two fewer than in 2011. That’s pretty consistent, except when we consider that from 2007 through 2010, we averaged nearly 179 corrections.
In my “corrections” columns over the last two Januarys, I’ve puzzled over the reduction … and I’m still at a loss for the answer. I know we’re trying just as hard to discover our errors, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t suddenly become far more accurate beginning in 2011. Maybe it’s more people reading us online and choosing not to contact us about a boo-boo. I really don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate it when we make a mistake. But I truly hope we find out about more of them, and our corrections total rises in 2014.
Unlike in some previous years when we committed some real doozies, our corrections in 2013 were by and large run-of-the-mill stuff — a wrong address, a date for an event that was inaccurate, a mistaken name of an organization.
Not so fortunate was the London Evening Standard, which in September ran this correction after its coverage of a museum exhibit featuring the suits of artist Sebastian Horsley.
“… By unfortunate error we referred to Rachel Garley, the late Sebastian Horsley’s girlfriend, who arranged the exhibitions, as a prostitute. We accept that Ms Garley is not and has never been a prostitute. We offer our sincere apologies to Ms Garley for the damage to her reputation and the distress and embarrassment she has suffered as a result.”
Sometimes a correction can be downright unapologetic, like this one in June from The Sun newspaper in England (the spelling and punctuation being the way they do it in that jolly, old place):
“In an article on Saturday headlined ‘Flying saucers over British Scientology HQ’, we stated ‘two flat silver discs’ were seen ‘above the Church of Scientology HQ’.
“Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologise to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists.”
Showing it’s never too late to run a correction, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., gallantly offered an apology for this, written by its predecessor, The Patriot & Union.
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”
Yep, the paper had blasted Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address five days after it was delivered.
On Nov. 19, the 150th anniversary of the speech, the Patriot-News included this opinion of the Gettysburg Address in a clever, tongue-in-cheek editorial:
“In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion.”
In the fullness of time, we’ll try to cut down on mistakes and do a better job, too, in 2014.
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.