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Fun with Newspaper Corrections

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Chris

From The New York Times, December 24, 2009: “A picture caption with an article in some editions on Tuesday about continuing transportation problems after the weekend snowstorm misidentified the location of a pile of slush in the Bronx. It was on Fordham Road, not Fordham Avenue.”

Anyone else share my love of journalism corrections—especially fabulously nit-picky ones like this? Having spent part of my career in a newsroom, I love imagining the back stories behind the weirder and more obscure mea culpas. How did the hapless writer of the picture caption get wind of the fact that he or she misplaced the pile of slush? Did some angry slush-watcher call the paper? How many editorial come-to-Jesus meetings did it take to resolve the slush scandal? Are slush-pile jokes making the rounds in the newsroom?

Most corrections are pretty mundane—incorrectly spelled names, transposed dates and the like. So we corrections-watchers gleefully pounce on misplaced slush piles, or this wince-inducing correction from last month’s Washington Post: “A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.”  (Shout out to the Regret the Error blog, by journalist Craig Silverman, for bringing this one to wider attention.)

This is entertaining stuff for journalism obsessives. But are there any takeaways from making a study of corrections—aside from the feeling of relief that it wasn’t you who made such a spectacular and public goof? For one thing, corrections are a constant reminder not to get too smug about one’s ability to create a clean and factually correct piece of writing. The second you don’t think you need to double-check a fact, or that you can skip that last round of copyediting, is the moment you’ll lose your grip on quality control. (Of course, if you’re working with the Content Bureau, we relentlessly proof your copy so you can skip the stress—and the expense of reprinting that gorgeous full-color corporate brochure marred by a jarring typo.)

The other big takeaway is the value of being honest and transparent with your audience when errors do occur, in spite of the best fact-checking and your attention to detail. A correction about a misaddressed pile of slush makes you laugh, but it also shows the Times’ commitment to offering the most complete and clear news coverage available. They don’t sweep their mistakes under the rug. They air them out, which builds readers’ trust in their content.

As painful as it is to admit an error, it’s more painful to cope with diminished expectations of customers (and internal stakeholders) who doubt the quality of your work. It’s far better to fess up sooner rather than later. If you’ve erred online—in your blog, newsletter, wiki, or tweet—consider yourself lucky: fix, fess up as appropriate, and then move on. If in a print pub such as your industry magazine, suffer through the correction. And if in a hard-copy marketing communications document—the data sheet, case study, brochure, white paper, or playbook awaiting your customers arriving at tomorrow’s user conference—weep. And vow to use a professional copy editor (hint: the Content Bureau) next time.

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Name Brands: Not Just for Consumers Anymore

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 by Partner Laurel Sutton, Catchword

Have you been watching 30 Rock lately? Or The Office? CSI:NY? Heroes? If so, you probably know about Cisco TelePresence, a high-end videoconferencing system that makes it seem as if everyone participating in a virtual meeting is actually in the same room. Cisco TelePresence is a B2B brand—at least, it started out as one when […]

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Speech-Crafting Lessons from the White House

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Chris

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s hard to deny that President Obama has brought powerful speech-giving back to the White House. Much of the credit goes to Obama himself. The award-winning author is heavily involved in the drafting of his speeches—and packs a punch with his delivery. It is also clear […]

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Design Trend for 2010: Purple

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by Todd

Calling trends is classic chicken-egg stuff: does a tendency only become a trend when one labels it so? The line is thin and grey enough that by the time most trends are “predicted,” they’re actually simply being reported. But the stakes are low here, so let’s play pundit. Over the years, I’ve gone through a […]

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How to Write a Review of a Classical Concert You Didn’t Attend

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 by Keven

Staying late at the office one Friday night, you take a casual look at the list of quarterly deliverables your boss is expecting from you. Produce a new 500-page microsite. Check. (Thanks, Content Bureau!) Update all marketing collateral with screen shots of a yet-to-be-built middleware platform. Check. (Thanks, summer intern!) Write a 400-word review of […]

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Writing Titles That Hook the Reader

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Kate

Those first six or seven words on the cover can be the hardest part of writing! To make sure readers keep reading, we need snappy, ultra-compelling titles and sub-headlines that are also relevant, informative, and comply with corporate branding guidelines. Stuck in a rut? Here are some tips for getting out. . .

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How to Write a Great Letter to Santa

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Lisa Z.

Crafting a compelling direct appeal letter is all about timing, tone, and attention to detail. Take your basic Letter to Santa. Sure, you could crank it out on mom’s PC to show St. Nick how clever you are (and, therefore, worthy of his attention) by: Ramping your wish list up visually with your fave font, […]

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Death of a (pharma) salesperson?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 by Client Jeff Gaus, Prolifiq

Custom marketing materials make it easier for physicians to educate their patients about the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved uses and benefits of the drugs they prescribe. However, some physicians believe that those who distribute these materials—the pharma reps—provide little value beyond giving out free samples, branded “swag,” and educational materials. In fact, their efforts […]

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The Very Best Style Guide Reference Books

Monday, November 16th, 2009 by Chris

If you’ve read the fabulous Grammar Queen’s post on creating a corporate style guide (and if you haven’t read it, do so right now), you know you must make some decisions about how your organization crosses the t’s and dots the i’s. However, you can’t possibly list every grammar or style rule in your own […]

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How Do I Create a Corporate Style Guide?

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 by Lisa S.

Your Highness: I work in marketing at a midsized technology firm. My boss tells me we need a style guide. Yesterday. And I’m just the person to produce it. While I do some writing as part of my job, and I can put commas where they belong—OK, most of the time—I’m not a writer or […]

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