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Public editor: My New Year’s resolution: No more cryptic corrections

One of my New Year's resolutions is to issue corrections that are more clear to the reader about what information was wrong and a little less cryptic than some previous ones have been.

In my column on the number of corrections The Globe prints each month (about 50 to 60) either for the newspaper, online, or both, I said that all print corrections would now be on Page 2 of the news section rather than distributed in the sections where the error occurred.

This is in the interest of greater transparency, to make it clearer for readers to see exactly what went wrong.

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In the spirit of that transparency, I received a clever letter from a reader: "Your corrections usually say something along the following line: 'Scientists have discovered a new form of ice worm 500 meters below the surface of the Greenland ice cap. Incorrect information appeared in an article on page A10 on May 13, 2012.' Now the trouble is that when this appears, my copy of the May 13, 2012, paper more often than not has gone down the recycling chute or to the bottom of the bird cage. Not having a photographic memory, I then don't know what the article reported incorrectly. Was the creature not an ice worm, or was it discovered at 300 meters, or was it discovered in Antarctica? I then spend a sleepless night worrying which one, or two or all of the possibilities was incorrectly reported. This is very frustrating especially in matters of more concern than ice worms.

"I am sure I am not the only one bothered by this. I know it would take the courage of humility (not humiliation) but I think it would be significantly more satisfying to your readers if you instituted a policy of simply saying in your corrections section 'this is what we said and this is what we should have said.'"

This reader is absolutely right that there are times when you really don't know what a correction is correcting. And humility is a good thing for everyone in the media to embrace.

So the New Year's resolution is to be more transparent, to better explain what went wrong so that you don't have to go fishing in your recycling box to figure it out.

Happy New Year to you.

If you want to comment on this please do so below. If you want to e-mail me on this topic or anything else, please send it to publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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