George Edmonson

Wall Street Journal makes numerous, uncorrected mistakes on editorial pages

Few newspapers enjoy a reputation as solid as that of The Wall Street Journal, even after the consternation over ownership changing hands a few years ago. Its news reporting is solid, writing first-class, opinion pieces sharp and pointed. And, as Marilyn Monroe pointed out, there are all those tiny figures.

Lately, though, I’ve discovered numerous cracks in its editorial page fortress, which seems to be surrounded by a nearly impenetrable wall.

The cracks are errors on the opinion pages. I’m not talking about statements that might be open to interpretation or arguable viewpoints. No, I’m talking about things more basic. Like Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

That’s the way the surname of the Republican U.S. senator from Texas was spelled in a column last month about that state’s politics. It was still that way online when I checked the other day. And, as with other examples, I haven’t seen a correction in the print edition, either.

As I’ve undertaken a relatively close inspection of the Journal’s opinion pages over several weeks — red pen in hand and Google at the ready — here’s a sample of what I’ve found:

There were others, as well as several more I believe were incorrect but was unable to nail down. I’ve seen two of the errors corrected online without acknowledgement of the original mistake and have noticed none corrected in the printed edition.

I have no desire to embarrass anyone. My sense is surprise and sadness, not schadenfreude. But it seems only fair to present all my information, as long as you bear in mind that you can’t assume the writer committed the error.

Then there’s that wall. For news, the process for reporting errors is simple. Corrections & Amplifications includes a phone number and email address. Trying to find either for the opinion pages was another matter. The closest I came was a letters-to-the-editor email, which I used twice, got no replies and saw no corrections.

Believe me, I know about newspaper errors. I still cringe when I recall a big one I made as a young reporter. Among my tasks was typing lists of college graduates, and I had the wrong school for one long compilation. I also remember tapping a correction into the Atex system at The News American in Baltimore and repeating the original error, then seeing it in print the next day.

When I was public editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, handling corrections was part of my job. Dealing with them was not pleasant and led to many an unsettled, worrisome night. And that’s not to mention living in fear every time I wrote a column, terrified that I’d commit some stupid mistake.

So, I don’t take corrections lightly or revel in the misfortune of others. With a paper as distinguished as the Journal, I wondered how this could happen. Unfortunately, those in charge of the opinion pages didn’t want to discuss the subject.

A couple of phone calls and emails to Dow Jones and Journal offices seeking an interview to explore the issue resulted only in a reply from a spokeswoman. Her email told me that Paul Gigot, editor of the editorial page, was “unavailable for an interview but below is his response/comment re: corrections for the Opinion pages: ‘We publish corrections when they are warranted.’”

I sent her another email detailing the kinds of errors I wanted to discuss and the question of how readers are supposed to contact the paper. So far, no response.

I think that’s a shame. I say so as an admiring reader and Journal subscriber, off and on, for almost 40 years. Its editorial pages — regardless of your opinion of the political stance — stand out among its competitors in both quantity and breadth. Many of the nation’s top academics, politicians, commentators and scientists can be found in its columns.

And that’s why I find it disheartening to not only see these kinds of mistakes but a passive/aggressive posture toward inquiry about them. A paper that has so much for which to be proud shouldn’t duck its responsibility to give readers the opportunity to point out errors and to publish corrections for its mistakes. Read more


6 ways journalists can clean their copy, commit fewer errors

Recently, I became so upset by the number of easily avoidable mistakes I was encountering in respected online and print outlets that I got in touch with Poynter, eager to write something making clear the risk these organizations were taking by skimping on editing.

I know from experience, particularly as public editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution more than a decade ago, how disturbing such errors are to readers, leading them to believe no one’s paying attention or cares.

On the other hand, does Poynter’s audience want to read another jeremiad from a cranky old retired guy? Nope, Poynter’s Julie Moos told me. The institute’s readers are interested in solutions, not complaints. (Those are all my words. Julie was, of course, far more polite.)

Initially, I didn’t think I had any solutions. But the more I chewed on the issue, the more I thought I might have something to offer. Perhaps reporters could use a checklist, even as a refresher.

So, here are six tips to help you take control of your copy. None is original. You’ve likely encountered them all at one time or another. But I guarantee that if you diligently follow them, you’ll commit fewer errors.

1. Assume your copy will be published exactly as you wrote it. Don’t leave questions about facts, style, grammar or spelling for “the desk”; don’t hit spell-check and assume that’s taken care of; don’t fail to double check.

2. Read your copy aloud slowly — and listen carefully — before sending it. Virtually nothing will help you catch mistakes such as typos, transpositions, dropped words or misplaced phrases quicker than hearing each word and sentence.

3. Be fair. If there are accusations or negative comments in what you’ve written, did you give the subject a chance to respond? Everyone deserves that.

4. Stop at every number. First, be sure you’ve provided any necessary context. A company closing five stores means one thing if it operates 500 and quite another if it has only 10. It’s impossible to evaluate a 7 percent pay raise without knowing the amount of either the old or new wage. Second, if figures are supposed to add up to a specific number, do the arithmetic. Third, don’t confuse percent with percentage point, median with average or make similar elementary mathematical mistakes. Finally, double check every date, phone number and URL.

5. Read your email & respond to it. I have alerted reporters to errors ranging from mangled quotes and incorrect dates to major factual errors. I’m sure others do the same. Many times I receive no reply but, much worse, the errors aren’t corrected.

6. Keep a list and check it twice. This is particularly important if your job involves using other sources. Take note of which outlets — and bylines — get it right and which ones don’t. Attributing errors doesn’t let you off the hook. That’s deniability, not accuracy.

For more helpful advice, check out this News University course — Cleaning your copy: grammar, style & more Read more