That business last week in which President Trump made use of a days-old weather map on which a marker had been used to add coastal Alabama to Hurricane Dorian’s path was both ridiculous and instructive. The president had mistakenly included Alabama in a tweet the previous Sunday about the storm’s potential path, and rather than correcting the error and moving on, the President of the United States of America spent parts of the next four days (and counting) insisting that he had made no error at all.
Before being elected president, Donald Trump had never worked for anyone but himself or his ultra-wealthy father. That doesn’t explain why he feels so comfortable saying things that are demonstrably untrue, but it could explain why he never had to learn how to own a mistake, correct it and move on. Trump was even able to couch his multiple bankruptcies as brilliant business strategies, and he might actually believe that.
This is an Opinion
I was never that lucky. I’ve spent more than 30 years making mistakes in public — not deliberately, of course — and correcting them in public. I know little about the art of the deal, but I know a lot about the art of being wrong. Believe me on this: Mistakes need to be corrected promptly, clearly and prominently, and nothing good comes from pretending otherwise.
Writing corrections is humiliating work, and it doesn’t take long before a young reporter has experienced enough of that humiliation to recognize common pitfalls. You really do have to ask how to spell every name; there really are Smyths out there and parents persist in coming up with cute new spellings for common names. You really do have to go back and check that date because memory is a trickster and assumptions are traps.
When I arrived at Arkansas Business in 1999, clear corrections were being published promptly, but they were being stuck wherever space was available. This is a convenient approach, but it is not a best practice. I promptly established a new policy: Corrections will be published in the Whispers section, which I had quickly learned was the best-read section of our paper.
By putting corrections in that spot, our readers are more likely to see the correct information than to have seen the error in the first place. It serves readers better, and it protects me from complaints that corrections were “buried.”
While we never want to leave a reader wondering what we got wrong, we do follow the industry standard style for corrections by not repeating the incorrect information if it can be avoided. For instance, we might acknowledge that Korttnii Smyth’s first name was misspelled, but we wouldn’t repeat the incorrect spelling to further confuse readers.
Since I have nothing to sell besides reliable information, I take every report of an error seriously. That does not necessarily mean a correction will be forthcoming. Someone I had never heard of who lives in a different state recently complained on Twitter about a factual error in Arkansas Business, and the reporter and I checked carefully to see what we might need to correct.
In the end, we determined that our report had been factual and clear, and that the complaint misrepresented what the article actually said. (Naturally, our out-of-state critic has never acknowledged his public error.)
This week our Whispers section includes a clarification on last week’s Whispers item about plans for replacing most of the old Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff. A clarification is not the same as a correction; we didn’t make a factual error. But our report did not include the pertinent fact that the plans for the new hospital have not been officially approved by the board of directors, and we agree that our readers need to have the benefit of that context.
If you spot an error in Arkansas Business or on ArkansasBusiness.com, I want to know about it. My email address is below, and we include email addresses on every byline so that you can contact the reporter.
If you insist on spelling your child’s name in some clever, non-standard way, please be aware that you have sentenced your child to a lifetime of having his or her name misspelled. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.