Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Page One for the Books

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Page One for the Books

Article excerpt

Double jeopardy for the 'tribune'

It could happen to you. The newspaper's been put to bed and everyone in the newsroom kicks back, if only for a few minutes, enjoying the brief interlude between deadlines before returning to work. The paper comes off the press, and - egad! a horrifying sight, one that turns the stomach of any reporter or editor - there's a mistake, and not just any mistake, but a Page One mistake.

It happened recently to Editor Scott Ware, and not once but twice the same day. Ware shared his remorse in an earnest letter just hours later. "Friday was a day we at The Albuquerque [N.M.] Tribune would like to forget," he wrote in a March 11 letter to readers of the 21,321-circulation daily. Friday, March 10, was the day two serious bloopers made it onto the front page and had to be rectified.

The first (midday) edition of the March 10 Tribune carried a lead story with an error concerning grand-jury actions in a murder case. Because of a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling against procedural defects in the Bernalillo County grand-jury system, 1,340 cases must be dismissed and re-submitted for grand-jury examination. In the case reported by The Tribune, two men formerly indicted on murder and other charges were not indicted for murder by a second grand jury. The Tribune's story said that these men had "walked away without a murder charge to their names."

"The problem was, the reporter meant it figuratively and the editor took it literally," said News Editor Kelly Brewer. "Our story and headline said that two men who had been charged with murder were free. And they were not, in fact, free. They were still in custody [on the other charges]."

As soon as the paper came off the press, the reporter realized what had happened and alerted her editors, who corrected the story in the second (evening) edition - right where the error had occurred, at the top of the front page - as well as in Saturday's sole edition (for first- edition subscribers who might not have seen Friday's evening edition).

But when it rains, it pours. The editors replaced the lead story in the first edition with another, unrelated one in the second - only to realize, too late, that it gave the wrong dates local traffic would be disrupted because of a highway-widening project. "So in one day," said Brewer, "we had two above-the-fold, Page One errors." Since the traffic error was in the second edition, its readers had to wait until the following day to see their correction, which ran with the repeated first-edition correction and Editor Ware's letter to readers about both lapses.

"There is no easy explanation for Friday's curse," Ware wrote. "In each instance, normally reliable staff members fell victim to human error, and our system of backstops failed us, too. To you, our readers, we apologize and pledge our utmost efforts to earn anew your trust in our reporting."

Brewer said it's the Tribune's policy to correct any error that's brought to its editors' attention. "We try our level best to get it right the first time. But if we make mistakes, we correct them promptly. The front-page correction is a little out of the ordinary," she added, "but we thought it was the right thing to do."

Brewer said that as far as she knew, The Tribune's correction policy has not been influenced by the proposed Uniform Correction or Clarification of Defamation Act (UCCDA), which promotes the use of corrections by reducing publishers' exposure to libel lawsuits. …

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