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New year brings back same goals

December 28, 2003|by LINDA DUFFIELD

Here we are, fast approaching 2004, a new year and 364 chances - we don't publish on Christmas Day - for The Herald-Mail to get it right.

We're not talking about New Year's resolutions here, because sad experience tells me that such resolutions frequently (perhaps usually) don't stick.

But a new calendar year can provide a clean slate and a perfect opportunity to take stock of the job we've done over the past year and to renew our efforts to do an even better job in the next 12 months.

In the newsroom, that means continuing the quest to put out the perfect newspaper.

Sounds easy, but take it from me, it's not. There are so many variables, so many stories, so many chances to make mistakes - to spell a word wrong, to have a bad headline or incorrect information, to make the wrong decision when selecting stories to run prominently.

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Mistakes embarrass us and, even worse, hurt our credibility. They are unfair to our readers, who should be able to expect that we'll get it right.

For those reasons, and more, the newsroom goals for 2004 should include:

- Making it through the year without spelling even one name wrong. That's one of the worst and most inexcusable mistakes we can make. Not only is it unfair to the person whose name has been misspelled, but it could call into question other information in the story.

- Resolving to make sure that every story we run is fair and balanced. We already work to do that, to tell all sides of a story, to keep personal bias off the news pages. But fairness is so important that reminding ourselves not to let down our guard is important.

- Renewing our efforts to correct any and all mistakes. We have an aggressive correction policy, and any mistake of which we are aware runs on the front page, if that's where the story containing the mistake ran, or on A2.

- Working harder to keep typographical errors out of the paper. Typos have a nasty way of popping up in copy we were sure we read carefully and closely, so it's up to us to read stories even more carefully and closely to eliminate them.

- Getting through the year without overplaying or underplaying any story. That's a tough one, because story selection is subjective and involves news judgment.

More than once during the past year we underplayed stories we later wished we had run on A1 or at least displayed more prominently.

Those mistakes weren't the result of a hidden agenda or bias. It was a lot simpler than that. We didn't recognize the significance of the information and/or didn't feel it was sufficiently significant to change plans for the front page.

We're working on that, and with any luck, and wisdom, will do better this year.

While we're at it, we should take care never to let a story end in the middle of a sentence and to write headlines that highlight the most important information in the stories over which they appear.

All of this is a good start, but just scratches the surface.

Perhaps we will never put out a newspaper without so much as a comma out of place. But the important thing is that we keep trying.

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