Emails to Guardian's ombud show readers take corrections seriously

After The Guardian published an article in May that referred to Queen Elizabeth II as a "woman," it received this email response from a reader:

The last sentence refers to the Queen using the word 'woman'. Undoubtedly true, however I think 'lady' would be more appropriate.

That quip was one of the bits of reader feedback highlighted in a Monday column from Leslie Plommer, an associate editor who oversees corrections in the Guardian's readers' editor (ombudsman) office.

Plommer shared some of 2011's best reader emails, while also reporting the pickings from this year were slim. That also helps explain why the past year was rather short on hilarious Guardian corrections. Plommer writes:

A criticism sometimes levelled at the daily corrections column is that it isn't funny enough. So whose fault is that? Round-the-clock hilarity means everybody doing their bit: sorry, but ou sont les bons mots de l'email inbox d'antan? Which is all by way of saying that if there is a theme to this year's roundup of comments sent to the queue, it is the preponderance of being earnest.

She cited the above email regarding the Queen as a typical example of the humorless reader replies of 2011. I agree this was a bit of a down year for The Guardian's famous corrections column.

The paper did win runner up for Correction of the year, but there was a dearth of other amusing offerings. That's something of a disappointment for a paper that's published two collections of its best corrections. (See here and here.) What's my favorite Guardian correction of all time? From February 2, 1999:

The absence of corrections yesterday was due to a technical hitch rather than any sudden onset of accuracy.

Still, this year's runner up for Correction of the Year is remarkable:

An extract of an online opinion piece appeared in the newspaper, headlined Will and Kate’s mask slips (June 9, page 31). It argued that while, pre-wedding, it was announced that the future Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would not be employing household staff, this image of modernity had now been “compromised by the news that they are advertising for a housekeeper, butler, valet and dresser to serve them in their new home of Kensington Palace”. The couple’s press secretary, Miguel Head, asks us to make clear that: “At most, they may employ one (a cleaner-cum-housekeeper), who may be part-time. We never ‘announced’  that the couple would ‘not be employing any [domestic staff]‘ after their wedding. What we have always said is that the couple have no plans to employ domestic staff at their home in Anglesey, but in London they have use of domestic staff at Clarence House, the home that they have hitherto shared with the Prince of Wales. The additional one part-time, or one full-time, cleaner has come about because the couple are taking their own home in London away from Clarence House.”

Elsewhere the piece referred to “damaging stories of royal profligacy past: Charles with his staff of 150, and an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him”. Of this, Miguel Head writes: “The Prince of Wales does not employ and has never employed an aide to squeeze his toothpaste for him. This is a myth without any basis in factual accuracy.”

I agree with Plommer that some of the reader emails she highlights in her column are less than inspired. Though I loved this response to a typo in a report about the "Neanderthal diet":

I see that not only did Neanderthals have a better diet than we had previously thought, their grammar was so advanced it made their teeth rot: 'Starch participles found in Neanderthal dental plaque'.

Then there's this response to an article headlined, "Osama bin Laden: family guy with three wives, nine children and a cow to keep":

It's just wrong - wrong in fact, and hopelessly suburban and patronising. You don't keep a cow, like a pet. The cow keeps you. What would have been wrong with 'family guy with three wives and nine children to keep'? Cheers, Malky.

Earnest, yes. But, really, what's better than someone named Malky having a cow over a headline about bovine ownership?

Correction: This post originally and incorrectly referred to the Queen of England, rather than the correct Queen Elizabeth II, or Queen of the United Kingdom.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon