What Happens When We Get It Wrong? Slate’s Corrections Czar Talks About Our Policy on Errors and Typos.

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July 15 2014 5:06 PM
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Getting It Right

We ain’t perfect. Corrections czar Miriam Krule on Slate‘s policies on factual errors and typos.  

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nic McPhee/Flickr Creative Commons.

I’ve been a member of Slate’s copy desk for the past three years, meaning I’m one of the people responsible for being the last line of defense before pieces go live on our site. I read the pieces for grammar and style and then create the article pages using our CMS (content management system, aka the program we use to upload our articles). My job is to read Slate! It’s up there with the people whose job is to watch Netflix.

Everyone on the copy desk has additional copy-related tasks. Mine is to handle our corrections; internally I’ve been (lovingly, I hope) crowned our “corrections czar” (but maybe I should opt for “corrections princess”?).

I inherited a pretty solid corrections policy from the previous czar: Essentially, every factual change or addition to any piece must be noted in some way. At Slate, we want to be as transparent and upfront with our readers, as possible. This goes for something small like a misspelled name or misplaced decimal point, to larger issues like a mathematical miscalculation or a misquote. Typos, like a misspelled word (that’s not a proper noun) or missing comma, we don’t note.

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There are two ways that we let readers know that we’ve changed or added to a piece: We either add a correction or an update. Simply put, a correction is any time we got something wrong. An update is any time we want to add information: sometimes to clarify a point that’s not wrong, just maybe unclear, or (and this is the most common update) information becomes available after we’ve published the piece.

No matter what, though, we try to be as clear as possible about the change. We’ll tell you what we got wrong when we post a correction—if we said someone is 72 and he’s really 52, we won’t just tell you we got his age wrong; we’ll tell you the age we initially put there. If we update a piece, we’ll explain if it’s because President Obama announced a new policy after the piece went live or if it’s because we found a sentence to be unclear.

Recently, Poynter highlighted this policy of ours, focusing mostly on the great corrections policy of our social team, explaining what they do if we accidentally tweet an incorrect photo or explanation. Overall, the policy is the same: Never delete, always correct.

And no, we’re not embarrassed about our corrections. Why should we be? We’re proud to be accurate, and when we get something wrong, we want to fix it. Which is where you occasionally come in. If you’ve ever emailed corrections@slate.com, you’re emailing me! We have some loyal readers (some that we’ve written about!) who love to catch our mistakes and help us out. I try to respond to almost all of the emails, at least the ones that are intended to be helpful, and let you know when we’ve made the correction or explain why we won’t be adding one.

And if you want to know all the articles we’ve corrected each week, you’re in luck because we have a roundup. Unlike in a newspaper, there’s no obvious Page 2 on which to print the day’s corrections, so we collect our corrections each Friday. I’m always baffled by how many people seem to share them.

While I take corrections very seriously, it doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun with them. Here are three of my most recent favorites:

You may remember our popular “Carlos Danger Name Generator.” Well, when we first published it, we forgot to check one important thing:

Correction, July 23, 2013: An earlier version of the Carlos Danger Name Generator suggested incorrectly that the Carlos Danger Name for Anthony Weiner is Armando Catastrophe. The Carlos Danger Name for Anthony Weiner is Carlos Danger.

In Willa Paskin’s TV review for Silicon Valley, there was some translation difficulty:

Correction, April 4, 2014: This article originally misstated what nonsensical buzzword a character in HBO's Silicon Valley is constructing elegant hierarchies for. It is for maximum code reuse and extensibility, not maximum code reuse and ostensibility. 

And, probably one of my all-time favorites because of its subtlety:

Correction, April 3, 2014: This post originally quoted photographer Tom Sanders as saying it takes him five years to get on the dance floor. It takes him five beers.

Correction, July 15, 2014: This post originally misstated the email address for corrections. It's corrections@slate.com not correction@slate.com. It's only fitting that this post has a correction. 

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