Archives for posts with tag: show me the errors

John De Leon was a graduate student in engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, and he kept finding typographical errors in his textbooks. “Who hasn’t?” you academics might be thinking to yourselves. Well, De Leon — and colleagues Hiro Sasaki, Brandon Kim and Albert Ko — decided to do something about it. After contacting a few publishers to report the errors they were finding, they discovered that most publishers have no systematic way to collect error reports from readers. The inspiration for was in place.

Unlike Show Me the Errors at the Missourian, Typoze isn’t attached to any one publisher, and the errors that are reported there aren’t automatically corrected (or rejected). Instead, it’s a surrogate for missing error reporting systems at publishers’ websites, and it’s a social network with its own rewards. As a Typoze user, you can find any published book in Typoze’s Google Books-powered database, you report the error you found, you can comment on other users’ reports, and you can get feedback on your own. Over time, you build an official ranking and social capital within the community.

That last bit might be a nice feature to add to Show Me the Errors. Is there a way we could have on site an automated ranking that creates a bit of a horse race for users? Is there a way readers could report the errors on the site so that other readers could see them, and we could comment there too? It could then become a real community and a shared learning experience.

The Washington Post this month entered the arena of crowdsourcing accuracy — and in a big way.

Like the Missourian’s “Show Me the Errors,” the Post has reached out to its readers by asking for fixes. Every article includes a box that says: “Corrections? Suggestions?”

It’s more work to report an error. At the Missourian, you fill in the box and send (if you’re registered). At the Post, the linked page asks you to copy and paste in the URL of the article. You also must check one box for the section the story ran in and another for the kind of mistake: factual, grammatical, punctuation or spelling.

Then you can describe the error.

That’s the awkward part.

The cool part — the one we should consider at the Missourian — asks:

“What do we need to know to improve future stories on this topic?”

Well, that’s just great.

I wouldn’t want to clutter up the Missourian article page much more. Perhaps, though, it could be an invitation added somewhere else (on the “Preview Correction” page?)

What’s so swell about it? To me, it feels more like an invitation to describe the parts that aren’t wrong but aren’t in the article at all — to get at those things that are accurate but incomplete.

Matt DiRienzo of The Register Citizen in Connecticut said these errors of omission are far more extensive. “We don’t go deep enough into a story, or we miss pieces of information and perspective that would change readers’ perception of an issue.” His newspaper also was one of the first to crowdsource corrections.

But wait. There’s more at the Post.

DiRienzo says the paper may be building a new Rolodex of sources:

The Washington Post corrections/fact check page even has a “yes/no” opt-in to the question, “Would you be willing to help with other stories?”, suggesting that the paper is building a foundation for future crowdsourcing efforts, perhaps by specific topic.

This is a huge symbolic shift, I hope, away from the “fortress journalism” that traditional media has clung to even as the web and social media have completely changed the audience dynamic out from under them.

I’m sure there are other examples out there. Show Me the Errors has been a great success since its launch last semester. (It was first formally proposed by a team of students in the Journalism & Democracy course.)

How can we make it even better?

Today, one of the most prolific entrants to our Show Me the Errors contest, Stephens College professor Jim Terry, was on a roll. Over the course of an about an hour, Terry submitted 21 separate errors, almost all of them simple and unarguably valid. The majority of them I would put in the category of “Careless.” If our editors had been paying a little more attention, none of these errors would have seen the light of day. I compiled the errors in this Word document for our editing staff, if you care to take a look.

This problem of failing to edit for detail reminded me of something I learned from a longtime colleague of mine at The Wichita Eagle, Roy Wenzl. Those of you here at Mizzou might have met Roy a few weeks ago when he was on campus working with some of Jacqui Banaszynski’s students. Roy’s expertise is in narrative reporting, and many of his pieces win a lot of attention. Nieman Storyboard recently did a great interview with Roy about his latest work.

Back in about 1997, we were having some editing problems at The Eagle, which once upon a time was infamous for having eliminated its central copy desk*. A lot of little errors were making it into print. Roy — the leader of the crime and safety team at the time — circulated a memo describing something he called “The Dink-Dink Solution.” I was a pretty fresh copy editor then and found this technique immediately improved the consistency of my editing. I adapted the technique, but it owes a lot to Roy’s memo. Here it is:

  1. When you’re copy-editing a story, the first time you read through it, you try not to touch it. You can fix very obvious, simple errors, but your goal is to read the thing from top to bottom and to try to understand it. You’re asking yourself: What is this story about? Do I understand it? Will the reader understand it? Is it fair and accurate? Any fiddly editing you do at this point is only going to distract you from answering those fundamental questions.
  2. You’re now going to pass judgment on the story. Does it accomplish its purpose? Did I understand it? Will the reader? Is it journalistically sound? If it’s flawed, can I fix it? If the story is misconceived, this is the point at which you have a conversation with the assigning editor or the night editor about it. There are some fundamental problems that a copy editor can’t, or at least shouldn’t, fix.
  3. If you still have the story, it’s time to really go to work. From top to bottom, fix the problems you find, whatever they are. Do the copy editing. And when you’re done with this pass of nuts-and-bolts editing. …
  4. It’s time to go “dink-dink.” If you have a way to hide your editing notes, do it. Now, start at the bottom of the story, with the last paragraph. Read it slowly and closely. Ask yourself: Does each word and each phrase mean what it says? Are there details here that I missed in my first pass? And when you’re done with the last paragraph, move up to the next-to-last paragraph and do the same thing. And then up to paragraph before that, and then the paragraph before that, etc. The idea here is that you’re divorcing yourself from the narrative of the story. You’re no longer going to get lost in what the writer is trying to say, you’re reading what the author actually wrote, in the way you edited it. This is what Roy meant by “dink-dink.” Imagine the staccato sound you make as you tap each paragraph individually, instead of the more continuous sound you make as you barrel through the story head-first. “Dink, dink, dink.”
  5. At this point, you’ve made three passes through the story. You might be done. Depending on how complex the story was, how much time you’ve got, how extensive your editing was, you might add a fourth pass, forward this time, just to read and understand the end result of your editing. And then, you move the story along to the news editor or slot.

When I’ve taught this to students, I’ve done so with this caveat: This is a technique — my technique. Try it. It might work for you. Or in trying it, you might figure out your own technique, just as I adapted this technique from Roy. The lesson here is that you’ve got to do something that forces you to read for detail. It doesn’t usually come naturally. Most copy editors are voracious consumers of information and tend to devour their recreational reading; part of our craft is cultivating the discipline to slow down.


* The Eagle’s copy editors were parceled out to topic-based content teams in 1995, and many took the opportunities offered to transform themselves into excellent reporters and assigning editors. The content teams worked out well, but the dearth of copy editing did not. By about 1999, a frustrated newsroom voted to make reconstituting the copy desk one of its top priorities for the year, and Executive Editor Rick Thames and Copy Chief Jann Nyffeler made it happen. I succeeded Jann as the leader of the reconstituted desk, a post I held for five years. Today, some of the desk’s denizens and alumni are among the most prominent members of the American Copy Editors Society.

We’re just about a week into the launch of the contest. Here’s Maggie Walter’s report:

Show Me the Errors contest was launched at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Oct. 1. Readers were invited to participate in the contest through the Dear Reader column — published online on Sept. 24 and in print on Sept. 26. Additionally, print editions on Sept. 29 and 30 and Oct. 1 and a banner on Oct. 1 on the website’s home page invited readers to join in.

Set up:
At the end of each story, readers see a submission box for the contest. The submission box also performs three functions:

  • Feeds an e-mail to This includes the originating e-mail so further contact can be made if needed.
  • Sends an automatic reply to the person who submitted the correction.
  • Gathers the sender’s name and e-mail throughout the month in Google analytics so that monthly winners can be determined.

In addition, there is a “what’s this?” link that includes an explanation of Show Me the Errors.

The automatic response states:

Thanks for helping the editors at the Missourian in their efforts to keep the copy as error-free as possible. Your points for the Show Me the Errors contest will be automatically tabulated. An editor will contact you if additional information is needed.

There was an immediate response from various writers, notably Rod Gelatt, about perceived grammatical errors in the column. Other readers also questioned particular word usages and punctuation.

Gelatt’s comment sparked a firestorm of comments in the world of editing and language blogs, in particular John McIntyre’s “You Don’t Say” blog and Mark Liberman’s “Language Log” weblog. As a result of an e-mail exchange with Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, the contest’s name was changed to Show Me the Errors.

Online readers jumped on the bandwagon to point out errors and needed corrections. As of Oct. 6, there have been about 30 submissions, apparently all valid. Kate McIntyre is leading the pack.

Other issues:
A couple of misdirected comments have shown up in the contest submissions. News desk editors have been directed to contact the writer and ask them to resubmit their comments in the correct place. We’ll be monitoring these incidents to see if they continue and decide if we need to redesign the submission boxes to clarify the situation.