NAMING AND SHAMING
It doesn’t take many words to describe the latest installment in our series about mistakes made by those whose job it generally is to be a good example and help prevent the rest of the world from making such mistakes. In a February 25 piece in the Friday arts section of the New York Times (page C24) by Holland Cotter on the French painter Paul Gauguin, the big—and I mean big—headline on the jump page (the one with the bulk of the story that the reader turns to after reading the opening on the section’s front page) left the u out of Gauguin’s name.
The New Yrok Tmies
Of course, we all make mistakes—one of the joys of working online after years of print publishing is that I can go back in and fix errors even after posting!—but mistakes in big bold headlines are definitely worse on some level (two days after the paper came out there was no mention of this error on the Times‘s correction page). I went poking around the Times online and discovered this manifesto, entitled “Assuring Our Credibilty,” by Bill Keller, the paper’s editor, written in 2005. This covers lots of weighty stuff about journalists’ protection of their sources, etc., but the most relevant parts were these:
Writers, you are responsible for the accuracy of every fact in your copy—the spelling of names, the date of an event, the accuracy of an address, every fact. No writer at The Times is exempt from this. Backfield editors, you are responsible for overall accuracy and fairness, and for enforcing standards. Copy editors, you should check verifiable error-prone facts as time allows and consult with writers about all factual changes. Writers are expected to read edited copies of their stories, as well as headlines, captions, graphics and related elements when practicable. (I understand that in a deadline business, it is often not practicable.) All staff members have a duty to notify a responsible editor of any possible errors in copy, before or after publication in print or on the Web.
All the news that’s tif to pint
I tried to reconstruct how this unfortunate typo might have happened. First, I wouldn’t blame the writer, Holland Cotter, who succeeded in spelling Gauguin correctly everywhere in his piece (yes, he’s a guy). He probably never saw the full version of the article with the headline till he picked up his copy of the paper on the day. Heads are frequently (in fact usually) written by editors, not writers anyway; in this case, since the front page of the section had a shorter, nameless version (“The Self-Invented Artist”), it seems possible that an editor decided to lengthen the jump page line. There, the article runs the full width of the page, and a four-word headline would probably seem rather pathetic and floaty in the middle of a load of white space; any art director would be likely to ask for something longer and meatier-looking. Opportunity here to make the topic more identifiable by adding the artist’s name… and there you have it: “Fantasies of Gaugin, the Self-Invented Artist.” Ouch.
It happens to us all (in my thankfully short stint a couple of years ago at OK! magazine, we spelled Ashlee Simpson’s name wrong on the front cover. But… in this case the correctly spelled name was ALL OVER the piece. The person editing the headline merely had to glance through the rest of the copy to register the fact. Verdict: should know better!—TAMARA GLENNY