Globe public editor: Why The Globe has to be shown the errors of its way
The volume of copy published is rising but the number of mistakes is actually down.
First the good news. The growing volume of material The Globe publishes—especially online—has not led to an increase in the number of errors being made. Two years ago saw a notable decline in published corrections and, now that this year is drawing to a close, I see there are still around 40 a month, down from the previous 50 to 60.
And the bad news? Names and numbers continue to be the top categories for mistakes. This doesn’t bode well for a publication that sees itself as Canada’s journal of record. Given the ease of checking names online, there should be, in theory at least, a decline here as well.
One type of error has fallen off: calling something the “first” or the “only” when it’s not. Such a bald statement is risky, especially when Globe readers are so knowledgeable and well-read that many often know the subject better than the writer does.
This year, there were just three such miscues, including a story that said the naval icebreaker HMCS Labrador was the first to circumnavigate North America in 1954. Smart readers were quick to point out the RCMP vessel St. Roch had claimed that honour four years earlier.
Writers who display pride also risk taking a fall. One Globe freelancer ran afoul of polymath reader Alain Gingras by claiming to have read every Tintin comic at least 50 times. Mr. Gingras, a former diplomat, wrote to suggest they be read “a few times more,” explaining that, contrary to what the story said, Tintin doesn’t climb Mount Everest but Gosainthan, a mountain “now called Xixabangma Feng and located north of Kathmandu,” whereas Everest is east of the city. What’s more, he said, a volcanic crater mentioned “is in Pulau-Pulau Bompa in the Celebes Sea, not in Java,” and “no one knows if Bianca Castafiore is a soprano.”
Mr. Gingras dislikes errors of any sort, but “mess with Tintin,” he warns, “and I will be all over you.” Corrections were made.
The fact that reporters and editors realize their audience is so vigilant may well be a reason the mistake rate is down. Even so, one story attributed the phrase “let me count the ways” to Shakespeare, prompting an outcry from fans of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and then the biologists in the crowd objected when a feature on black flies was illustated with a photo of an entirely different species (which they, of course, identified correctly).