Fifth-graders alert Washington Post to Titanic error with ‘adorable’ letter

Wednesday morning, The Washington Post’s Dennis Drabelle opened his mail to find a rather large letter informing him of an error in one of his stories. “Based on our research,” wrote Mrs. Reed’s fifth-grade class, “the Titanic hit the iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912.”

Drabelle, a contributing editor for the Post’s Book World, had written in an April roundup of Titanic books that the collision occurred on April 15, but that was the date that the ship sank. And these fifth-graders pay attention to details like that. (Future copy editors, if such jobs exist in 20 years?)

“Our favorite correction letter ever, from 5th graders @ Burning Tree E.S. in Bethesda MD,” tweeted Ron Charles.


“Isn’t that letter adorable?” said Ron Charles, a Post editor who tweeted a photo of Drabelle with the letter. ”Most of the correction letters begin with some kind of irate statement, ‘Isn’t anyone reading the paper over there?’ This was a nice change of pace.”

Although the letter is dated April 16, the teacher just sent it a few days ago, along with pictures of her students. Drabelle wrote a letter back to her. “I said something like, ‘It’s pleasant to be corrected by such diligent and friendly students.’ ”

The letter doesn’t actually request a correction, but Charles and Drabelle said by phone that it will be fixed. They may also publish photos of the children and a reproduction of the letter in KidsPost, the children’s section of the paper.

Here’s the text of the letter:

April 16, 2012

Dear Mr. Drabelle,

We are fifth grade students at Burning Tree ES in Besthesda, Maryland and we have been studying the Titanic’s tragic sinking and the lives of some of the survivors. In your April 15, 2012 edition of The Washington Post, you stated that the Titanic hit the iceberg on April 15, 1912. Based on our research, the Titanic hit the iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14, 1912.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Reed’s fifth grade class

The Post corrected the story online and also wrote its own account of receiving the letter. Ironically, the story about the correction letter required its own correction, which reads:

A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the date the article was published online.

Previous: The Guardian runs aground while writing about the Titanic | Ottawa Citizen front page reports that Titanic sank in 2012 | Titanic front pages honor 100th anniversary of ship sinking | How The New York Times invented disaster coverage with Titanic sinking

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  • Anonymous

    Looks like the WaPost copy desk missed another one. Surely someone is working on a computer program that can replaces these slackards so we can have more empty chairs in the newsroom… 

  • Anonymous

    “The key is good grammar. Without it, you can’t piss in the tall weeds with the big dogs.”

  • Anonymous

    “The key is good grammar. Without it, you can’t piss in the tall weeds with the big dogs.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Hall/100003322010756 Kevin Hall

    My kids’ school doesn’t teach them grammar, and they are not corrected when they fail to enclose a restrictive clause or element with a comma on BOTH ends. It drives me nuts, too.

    The execs who lay off all the editors don’t know when things are misspelled, written in bad grammar or factually inaccurate. They were business majors and weren’t made to practice proper English, either. That’s why they don’t think editors do anything.

    It used to be you could learn good grammar by reading it, as newspapers provided. I think these execs read more tweets and wall posts than their own newspapers, so they are inured to the errors.

  • http://twitter.com/OleHippieChick PB Wolf

    Ha ha.  There are no copy editors now, so why would there be any in 20 years?

  • http://www.facebook.com/angelaegambrel Angela Elain Gambrel

    Oh honestly! What are you, Scrooge???

  • Anonymous

    Dear Brats,

    You missed several commas in your letter.

    Get over yourselves. You’re not that cute.

    Sincerely,

    Blah Blah Blah

    P.S. Next time, save some paper and use email.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Brats,

    You missed several commas in your letter.

    Get over yourselves. You’re not that cute.

    Sincerely,

    Blah Blah Blah

    P.S. Next time, save some paper and use email.

  • http://twitter.com/KenCarpenter Ken Carpenter

    Bad headline — I kept waiting to read about the error in the letter. … Fifth-graders’ ‘adorable’ letter alerts Washington Post to Titanic error

  • http://twitter.com/KenCarpenter Ken Carpenter

    Bad headline — I kept waiting to read about the error in the letter. … Fifth-graders’ ‘adorable’ letter alerts Washington Post to Titanic error

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Miranda, Thanks for letting us know! I had completely missed your story, which is great. I’ll add a link to it in the story. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • http://twitter.com/mirandan247 MirandaN

    I actually wrote a post in April about the Titanic date quandaries, it’s more complicated than you might think and involves contradictory information established by the two different inquiries and different times used by the A.P. and other news sources. http://techpresident.com/news/22064/efforts-live-tweet-titanic-sinking-100-years-later-questions-about-when-begin