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Mistakes are unavoidable

trying to learn from them is prudent

July 11, 2009

"When you make a mistake, admit it. If you don't, you only make matters worse."

At The Herald-Mail, we take the words of Ward Cleaver, aka the dad from "Leave It to Beaver," to heart.

As much as we strive to put out an error-free product, mistakes, unfortunately, happen.

The first thing that happens when we find out we might have made a mistake is simple: Let someone know about it.

This is a credibility issue. The newspaper serves as a record of community events and we must correct any mistakes so the readers are correctly informed and the historical record is accurate.

Once a possible mistake is brought to our attention, a supervisor is notified. The supervisor reviews what happened to see if a mistake was made and takes appropriate action to correct it in the next edition.

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As an example, I'll review what happened the last time I made a mistake, which happened when I was editing a story written by staff writer Erin Julius about a Flag Day ceremony at University Plaza in Hagerstown. The story ran on page A1 of the Saturday, June 13, Herald-Mail.

When I edited the story, I thought Flag Day was officially going to be observed Saturday when it actually was going to be observed the next day. For some reason, I changed the story to say "Flag Day, which is today."

To make matters worse, I also incorrectly typed the day that Antietam Cable television was going to broadcast the ceremony, saying it was going to be on Channel 6 on Saturday and not Sunday, when it actually aired.

So I ended up having to write a correction.

When we write a correction, we have to state several things:

o Who made the error (reporter, editor, source, etc.)

o The date and page on which the story ran

o What the story was about

o What the mistake was and what the correct information is

Since this story ran on the front page, the correction ran on the front page of the Sunday, June 14, Herald-Mail.

Any corrections associated with a front page story run on page A1. All other corrections run in the top lefthand corner on page A2.

We also have to send an e-mail to Executive Editor Jake Womer with an explanation of why the error occurred. He keeps track of the number of corrections we have made and tries to spot trends regarding certain types of errors.

If we get on a run where we're misspelling proper names of people and places, we need to take the extra steps to avoid those mistakes. We need to double-check and triple-check names.

I know when I wrote a story several months ago about a high-end cabinetmaker agreeing to become the first tenant in the former Fleetwood Travel Trailers building in Hancock, I contacted Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy at least a couple of times to make sure I had the business name and the owner of the business spelled correctly.

We are extremely diligent when it comes to writing stories, headlines and cutlines. But we also work in a business where sometimes, a mistake will occur no matter how hard we try to prevent it from happening.

When it happens, all we can do is admit we were wrong and learn from our mistakes.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at tims@herald-mail.com.

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