Who Cares How Old He Was?


My local paper reported this morning on the death of a cleric in Lebanon. He was 75, the headline said.

Unfortunately, the first paragraph said he was 74.

There’s only one explanation for the discrepancy, and it isn’t that there’s a dispute over what year this guy was born.

I’d call it sloppy editing, but what I fear happened is the absence of editing. Some overworked news desk flunky glanced at the story,slapped a headline on it and accidentally hit the "5" instead of the "4."

It happens.

But in this era of thin-to-the-point-of-translucent staffing, there was nobody to check it.

Newspaper staffing used to be based on the premise that nobody is perfect and that everything should be checked.

It's a sensible attitude; even if you are very skilled at what you do, in a fast-paced environment, anyone can make a mistake. When you are part of a team, you know that there are others who will check what you did, and you trust that they will find what you missed.

Sometimes the errors are just embarrassing, such as this one involving the wrong age. But they might also be libelous or offensive—convicting someone in print of a crime of which they've been accused, perhaps, or citing the wrong airline in the story of a crash.

The sad result of all this is that readers stop finding the paper a credible source; after all, if it can make this kind of dumb error, what else aren't they paying attention to?

And that’s a pity.

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