Friday, July 23, 2010

The hazards of stealth corrections

Chris Shea, my Globe Ideas colleague, points to a Slate story about Politico's sloppy corrections policy that is itself fascinatingly riddled with updates, clarifications, and corrections. I'm not a hard-liner on minor blog corrections -- and as a part-time print journalist, I'm grateful that the online version of a piece can be corrected -- but it interests me that even among serious journalists, the issue of courtesy to one's fellow scribblers rarely comes up.

It arose for me way back in 2003, when I quoted Mickey Kaus's blog at Slate, Kausfiles, in a Globe language column. Commenting on reports of Arnold Schwartzenegger's sexual misconduct, Kaus had written, "He's not a groper the way Clinton was a groper -- Schwarzenegger seems to actually have a cruel streak."

Luckily, I went back to verify the quote before publication -- because Kaus had silently changed it to read, "He's not a groper the way Clinton was a masher." And luckily the change was made before my column went to press; I would have looked and felt incompetent (although I imagine Kaus would have copped to the change, if asked).

When I was new to blogging, I allowed myself a few minutes to fiddle with a just-published post, because it was hard to proofread (punctuation especially) in the preview version. (It  doesn't help that my dying computer screen has a one-and-a-half-inch white stripe down its center.) Occasionally I changed a word to eliminate a repetition. But now that Blogger's preview shows the published format, I manage to catch most typos before clicking on Publish.

Obviously, Mickey Kaus was far more likely than I to see his words picked up and reprinted. But if I changed a loaded word hours or days later -- groper to masher, say -- I think I'd feel obliged to note the change somewhere, in fairness to readers and especially to potential quoters.


Charles Matthews said...

So did you leave the -t- in the first reference to California's governor just to test us? Reminds me of how often I struggled to remember that George Shultz has a -t- but no -c- and Charles Schulz has a -c- but no -t-.

Jan said...

No, Charles, that just shows I've forgotten how to spell Schwarzenegger (sorry, Prof. Fleischhauer) and Mickey Kaus hasn't. But then, he lives in California. And yes, I too remember the Shultz/Schulz/Schultz headache from copy editing days. (And wasn't it "Weltschmerz" that tripped up a second-place spelling bee winner a couple of years ago? I sympathize.)

terriblywrite said...

The journalists who write for the blog of Yahoo News generally make corrections only after a post has been published. Then it seems that an editor may check it, some times hours after it's been live. They rarely issue corrections to the posts (though the posts often contain factual errors), but when they do they're hilarious. Like this one here:

and my favorite: