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Mistakes happen, but media need to address the problem

Clark Hoyt, public editor of the New York Times, published a revealing column on Sunday detailing how seven errors got into Walter Cronkite’s obituary. The timing of these errors was particularly bad, as obituaries often are some of the last public testaments to a person’s life.

Yet, even after warnings that Cronkite was ill, after preparing the obituary in advance, reporter Alessandra Stanley got several things wrong. Dates. Misspellings. Factual errors.

The errors are bad enough. What remains more distressing is the notion that Stanley has a long history of committing errors. As Hoyt describes the situation, Stanley “wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work.”

It seems the Times had at one time dedicated an editor to Stanley’s copy. However, her editor was promoted and no one was specifically assigned to handle Stanley’s copy, Hoyt said, leaving a gaping hole in the newspaper’s security net. 

But as James Raimey writes in the Los Angeles Times, the errors uncovered in the Cronkite obituary, and Hoyt’s explanation, are troubling, They reveal a newspaper going out of its way to compensate for errors that in most newsrooms would not be tolerated.

Most people who are the subject of news coverage feel the reporter erred in some way, either by including errors in their copy or committing errors of omission. What the media do not need are organizations, even a leading one such as the New York Times, that tolerate consistently inaccurate work.

And that’s a fact.

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