In an embarrassing mea culpa, The New York Times apologized for seven errors in a single article, an appraisal of Walter Cronkite, the CBS icon whose death made headlines when he died recently. The bottom line is that there was miscommunication throughout the newsroom in the writing and editing of the appraisal written by the paper’s TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, plus two errors in a separate obituary.
As the Times’ public editor reported, “The newspaper had wrong dates for historic events; gave incorrect information about Cronkite’s work, his colleagues and his program’s ratings; misstated the name of a news agency, and misspelled the name of a satellite.”
Time and again, when owning up to their mistakes, reporters and editors said they thought someone else was doing the fact checking. According to the public editor, “Douglas Martin, who had written an advance obit of Cronkite several years earlier, phoned Chip Cronkite. They went over spellings, discussed the cause of death and the like. No one thought to forward Chip Cronkite’s message to the culture department, where Stanley’s appraisal sat.”
If The “Gray Lady” can make so many errors with layers of editors supposedly watching over reporters, how can mere mortals avoid similar disasters? As the public editor wrote, “when communications is poor, individuals do not bear down hard enough and they make assumptions about what others have done”
A good lesson for all of us. Fact check, spell check, and don’t leave to others what we should be doing ourselves.