Reign of Error
The average newspaper corrects very few of its factual errors, says professor.
Consider: The Times published an average of one correction a day in 1982, Maier reports in his paper, while in 2004 it averaged nine a day. So, is the Times more error-prone today, as Hoyt seems to believe with his talk about a worsening cancer, or does its aggressive solicitation of corrections via e-mail and a toll-free phone number merely boost the number of errors reported? Guess where I stand.
Hoyt also writes of the outrage the Detroit Free Press editor who hired him in 1968 would have expressed at the Times' many spelling errors. Hoyt's implication is that the Free Press, long owned by the Knight Ridder chain where Hoyt spent most of his career, enforces—or once enforced—higher standards than the Times. Is that the case? Oh, hell no. At least eight of the newspapers shamed in Maier's study belonged to Knight Ridder at the time of the survey. So much for his former employer's devotion to accuracy.
I'm fine with Hoyt charging out of his pen to challenge the spelling skills of Times reporters and editors, but before he does so again, will he please consult Maier and other scholars who study press accuracy? He might find that the paper deserves more praise than criticism for its voluminous corrections.
No discussion of Times errors is complete without a mention of Kill Duck Before Serving: Red Faces at The New York Times: A Collection of the Newspaper's Most Interesting, Embarrassing and Off-Beat Corrections. Buy this book now. Hitsville.org, my friend Bill Wyman's new blog, dices Hoyt's column into fine pieces. Maier presented his paper under the title "Tip of the Iceberg: Published Corrections Represent Two Percent of Factual Errors in Newspapers" earlier this month at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference. He anticipates publication inside of a year. Every column about errors and corrections includes at least one big goof. Where's mine? Send findings to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)