Some mistakes harder to fix than others

By David Stevens

Sometimes we make mistakes. We made at least two in Friday’s paper.
We told readers the Clovis Police Department had scheduled a public hearing to discuss grant applications. We told readers the meeting would take place at 9 a.m. in the city hall’s assembly room.
But we forgot to tell readers what day the event would take place. (It was Friday, so it’s a little late for a correction.)
Also, we reported on a bail reduction hearing in a vehicular homicide case. We incorrectly reported the victim’s name.
“Why don’t you get some proofreaders,” our critics always say when they call us to tell us about our errors.
Our news associates do proofread pages, of course, but we still make mistakes; we’re human.
I’m guessing most businesses make mistakes. Sometimes you get fries when you order tater tots, or you’re charged full price for a shirt that’s supposed to be on sale, or a clerk forgets to take off the anti-theft device when you purchase a CD and nobody notices until the beeper sounds at the front door.
But a newspaper misspelling someone’s name or forgetting to say which day an event takes place is worse — at least to us and some readers — than giving a customer an iced tea when she orders lemonade. It’s worse because mistakes published in a newspaper are harder to fix.
The lady who ordered the iced tea knows about the error one second after taking her first sip; that enables the waiter to immediately correct the mistake. The newspaper can correct its published mistake, but not until the next day. And we’re not likely to knock on your door and attempt to remove the offending edition from your house. So there is always evidence because we print our mistakes.
Like most businesses, we are working to reduce the number of mistakes we make. Here’s the system we have in place to spot mistakes before they’re published in the paper:
First, reporters are encouraged to double check with sources anytime they have doubts about information they’ve received. Then, at least two copy editors read every story before it’s placed on a page. Then a third person reads the first draft of each page. Corrections are made and sometimes a second proof page is made prior to publication.
Still, errors slip through.
So what’s the best way to reduce errors? Should we fire any employee who makes a mistake? (If so, I doubt I’ll make it through the week.)
Should we have a reward system for perfect performance? (The less work you do, the less likely you will make a mistake.)
In the past few months, I’ve been asking our staff to provide a written explanation when mistakes are made in hopes we’ll be able to spot tendencies. So far, the explanations have not provided any information other than we tend to make mistakes when our attention wanes.
Like we didn’t already know that.
So what do those in other professions do to reduce errors? Please share. We’d love to learn from your successes.

From the Editor’s Desk is a weekly memo to CNJ readers. David Stevens can be reached at 763-6991, extension 310, or by e-mail: david_stevens@link.freedom.com