Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reader-Submitted Headline Mistake on N.Y. Times Web Site

"We have been publishing The Times since 1851 and there has never been an edition that did not have typos or errors of fact in it," conceded a senior editor from The New York Times Public Editor's office in an e-mail message. "And there never will be," the editor predicted, when asked about a major misspelling that appeared in the headline of a December 8th, 2008 article on the Gray Lady's Web site. This mistake was caught by the discerning eye of READER BEN, who kindly brought it to the Proofreader's attention.

As you can see in the highlighted screen shot above, The Times neglected to spell Illinois with the requisite two Ls in this article, that's since been changed. In many font types, the capital I and the lower-case L look exactly the same, so it's possible the similarity of the two letters tricked editors into thinking they saw the correct spelling. But, Illinois is a pretty well-known state and it has a silent S at the end. Forgetting the S at the end of Illinois seems like the more likely and explainable error. Either way, this misspelling occurred in a headline, in big, bold print. How exactly does an obvious mistake like this get published? Are these kinds of errors due to over-worked editors or just the breakneck pace of reporting online?

"Many of those errors certainly can be attributed to the crush of deadlines," wrote the senior editor. "And that is certainly true now for reporters and editors on the Web. Their deadlines are 100 times tougher than any print deadline. "

Wait, what about spell-check? Sometimes, in the dash to break news on the Internet, Times editors don't have time to use spell-check and other proofreading methods. And, when they do deploy such devices, spell-checking software occasionally registers a word as spelled correctly, unaware of the context in which it's being used. Ultimately, though, the senior editor points to simple human imperfection.

"The reason these mistakes occur is quite simple: The Times is staffed by human beings and we make mistakes."

The Proofreader thanks Reader Ben, writer of the The Baseball Card Blog, for pointing out the mistake.

Ever find a printed mistake that shouldn't have been made? E-mail a screen shot of it to


Dick said...

I never thought I'd find myself sympathizing with the Times on something like this, but mistakes of this kind have become so commonplace (and let's face it: typos in the Times' print edition have been legion since the '80s) that your piece feels a little churlish in its in-your-faceness.

Back in December I alerted the Times about a mistake (I hesitate to call it a typo) that appeared in David Pogue's Pogue-O-Matic consumer electronics buying advice tool: the text on one page recommended a 26-inch-wide flat panel television while the relevant link clearly pointed to a 37-inch-wide set.

I eventually received a thank you from a human being (presumably a Times web staffer), but when I revisited the Pogue-O-Matic weeks later I found the mistake remained -- probably because fixing it would have involved more than simply tweaking HTML.

Then, too, there's the headline for your story. When I first read it I was misled into thinking the headline was "reader submitted" and not the mistake. Wouldn't it make more sense to phrase it (in the manner of a news headline):

Reader Submits Headline Mistake to N.Y. Times Web Site


Clarity's a bitch on the web, eh?

J. Alfred Proofreader said...

Dick: Your comment reads more churlish than my blog post about the headline mistake. Read the slogan under the title of the blog. I'm just adhering to the rules I set up. I do try to be a little amusing when I write the posts (though I don't always succeed). Sorry you perceived it as churlish.

In fact, I meant The Times no insult. I'm just curious about how these slip-ups get published and a senior editor there was nice enough to answer a few questions over e-mail and provide some insight.

As for your being misled, go take a second look at the headline. The copy reads "reader-submitted," not "reader submitted." Perhaps we should bring in a Times editor to see if that would pass muster in the clarity department.

Many thanks for your suggestion. Unfortunately it would be inaccurate because this Web site is not a N.Y. Times property. Since you don't like my headline, perhaps this would work for you:

Reader Submits Headline Mistake found on N.Y. Times Web Site

Any better?

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