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Corrections in 2012: Best, worst and everything in between

December 13, 2012|By Joseph Serna
(Dan Kitwood )

There’s not many things that can ruin a reporter’s day like having to write a correction.

If it’s a misspelling, misplaced punctuation that changes the meaning of a sentence, or even a simple typo, your error is put on display for all to see. It’s a humbling and necessary process that keeps us honest.

Though we loathe writing them, we love reading them. The funniest or most relatable ones will usually end up on an email chain passed around among friends. Thanks to Poynter, a collection of some of 2012’s best and worst are all included in one place.

Among the highlights on Poynter’s list was a correction by the New York Times that went viral in January. The story ran just before the New Year.

An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.”

A correction in the Economist reminded me of a mistake I once made, when I accidentally identified a spokesman as a spokeswoman. The Economist’s correction:

“In ‘The value of a good editor’ (January 7th), we unwittingly proved the point of the title by referring to Joshua Rosenthal of the University of Puerto Rico subsequently as ‘Ms Rosenthal’. The gender-identifying appellation had been intended for his colleague, Sandra Garrett. Apologies to both.”

Then there are the straightforward typos. Despite layers of editing, sometimes they just make it through. An advertisement in a previous paper I worked for once had an ad for delicious “crab legs.” Only, the “B” was replaced with a “P”. A similar mistake ran in Canada’s Hamilton Spectator this year. The restaurant, Sarcoa, was spelled Sarcoma…like the cancer. The spelling was fixed for the online edition provided here.

Sometimes punctuation and cutting away a sentence can make all the difference, as the Australian showed earlier this year with this correction:

“Due to a production error, a quote attributed to Lieutenant Colonel Ghulam Jehlani Shafiq in a report in The Weekend Australian on Saturday (‘Afghanistan battles scourge of corruption’, page 16) was altered to change its meaning. Colonel Jehlani did not say: ‘It’s not like 25 years ago. I was killing everybody.’ In fact, he said: ‘It’s not like 25 years ago I was killing everybody. At that time too we tried not to have civilian casualties.’ The Australian apologises for the error.”

Even how the paper learns of the error can be fun. As the Washington Post pointed out this year when it received a 5-foot-long letter from a fifth-grade class.

Fortunately, the Times was spared from Poynter’s list. Let’s hope we keep it up in 2013.

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Joseph.serna@latimes.com

@josephserna

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