Not perfect, but we try

Did you have any luck solving the crossword last week? Maybe it wasn’t luck that was on your side. We accidentally printed the solution, not the usual fill-in-the-squares version that’s usually expected of a crossword – basically the newspaper version of leaving the house with your shirt on inside out, or walking around dragging a strip of toilet paper that’s stuck on the bottom of your shoe. It’s an embarrassing moment, an avoidable moment, and an entirely human mistake. And it’s not the only one.

Many news stories and comments pieces focus on individuals and groups in the public eye, on their promises and claims, and on how we hope they follow up with action. Journalists tell these stories to hold public figures accountable. And as journalists, we should be held to the exact same standards of accountability.

The stakes can feel so much higher in print media. We can’t do much about words printed on a page once they’re out in the world. If we had a huge staff or some kind of superpower, we’d be able to whisper “oops, don’t mind that spelling error in the third paragraph” into the ear of every reader who picked up The Uniter.

What we do have (and use) is the power of the internet. And for us, the admonishing words of those who balk at the public nature of social media ring true: we share our triumphs, but our every mistake is preserved online, forever (or as long as our archives last). When we mess up and you tell us – and thank you, by the way, for telling us – it’s part of our job to correct ourselves.

We get to take that inside-out sweater or stray strip of toilet paper and post it up for all to see on the corrections page of our website (you can find at uniter.ca/corrections). Some might consider it a hall of shame. But we’re a learning paper, so we’d rather see it as the hall of We Can Do Better. What can we learn about our fact-checking, about our interview process or about our editing and proofing systems?

No document can ever be 100% error free. Even the dictionary goes to print with typos. But rather than sweeping them under the rug or wallowing in the wash of embarrassment, we have to own it, learn from it, and keep going.

- Anastasia Chipelski

Published in Volume 70, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 12, 2015)

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