September 11, 2000

New year means new batch of errors to fix

Josh Renaud

Well, we're knee-deep in September now, and across campus I've been seeing familiar sights and sounds - bands playing it loud for Wednesday Noon Live, fraternities advertising various exploitive opportunities for ladies, and of course the Student Government Association elections.

Well, perhaps not the latter.

In any case, another familiar sight at UMSL this time of year is The Current, fresh from summer hiatus and beginning to settle down. The first few weeks usually provide ample opportunity for the paper to embarrass itself with a few errors or gaffes as new staff members get acclimated and as new editors try to learn their roles.

This year is no exception, and I'd like to take just a minute to talk about the nature of errors. Of course, everyone makes them. One could argue, for instance, that the University choosing to use externally-applied adhesive parking permits was a mistake of the highest order. Another person could argue that everything that happened in, about, through, over, and under the SGA last year was a mistake. I skipped a class two weeks ago. That was a mistake, and a costly one, at that.

So how does The Current deal with mistakes? Much as we pride ourselves on accuracy and attention to detail, the fact of the matter is that mistakes happen.

We have set up a system designed to catch virtually every mistake, at least when it's used properly.

We like to get things started on the right foot. Reporters get as many background details as possible from their editor about a story before they begin working on it.

As our reporters develop their stories, through interviews and research, we encourage them to use as many sources as possible. The more credible sources you tap in writing a story, the more accurate your story is likely to be.

We try to instill the habits of confirming the spelling of person's name after the interview and checking a person's title to make sure it's correct.

But reporters are human. Sometimes these habits are not enough to ensure everything is correct.

For that reason, we hire section editors, copy editors and proofreaders. Ideally, a section editor will go through a story when the reporter turns it in. Then the copy editor goes through the story Friday night. On Sunday night, our proofreader goes through the completed pages and checks headlines, bylines, and captions.

Unfortunately, so far this year we have had vacancies in a couple of the key positions I mentioned earlier. And, as you may have noticed, mistakes have been made, some glaringly obvious, like a series of question marks that I forgot to replace in a paragraph on the front page.

Be assured that we are doing the very best we can to eliminate mistakes like those. We hope to fill our vacancies over the next two weeks, and our reporters are becoming better writers with each story they write.

The Current is a learning opportunity for the people who work here. We're not perfect, but we're trying hard. We don't get many calls, but reader feedback is probably the thing we want most here. If you'd like to help us, please give us a call.

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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