Columbus Dispatch editor: Front page errors ‘made me want to vomit’

Here’s one newspaper editor who doesn’t mince words when it comes to mistakes.

Columbus Dispatch Editor Benjamin J. Marrison wrote a Sunday column to admit and explain some recent, embarrassing errors in the paper. At the top of the list of regrettable mistakes was the fact the Dispatch twice misspelled the first name of President Barack Obama — and on the front page, to boot. From Marrison:

In the past few weeks we’ve made a series of blunders — each minor — that individually did not ring alarm bells but collectively made me ill.

Thursday’s front page made me want to vomit.

It’s embarrassing to type the next six words, but I must: We misspelled the president’s first name.

And we did it twice.

Granted, Barack Obama’s first name isn’t a simple one, like George or Bill, but we should never misspell that name.

He said the errors were a result of the paper being supplied with Obama photos that had incorrect captions. Dispatch staff failed to notice the misspellings.

Marrison detailed other recent offenses:

If that weren’t bad enough (and it is), in the past few weeks we also misspelled the names of Ohio State basketball player Jared Sullinger in a headline (Sulligner) and auto racer Kurt Busch in a briefs package (Bucsh); had the score wrong in a story about the Gator Bowl (even though it was correct in numerous other places); and made John Edwards the vice president (instead of the Democratic nominee for that job in 2004).

A rough run.

Interestingly, Marrison’s column said the paper sends out daily accuracy surveys to “subjects of news stories” in order to gather feedback. The data from these surveys currently give the paper an “accuracy rate above 99 percent,” according to Marrison.

That number seems unusually high, given the fact that over 70 years of newspaper accuracy research has found that sources reported errors in between roughly 40 and 60 percent of newspaper news articles. The most recent newspaper accuracy study, published in 2005, found an error rate of 59 percent (sixth paragraph).

Still, the Dispatch is rare in making the commitment to send out daily surveys to sources. I emailed Marrison to find out more about the surveys, and will update with any reply.

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