The Stranger's annual regrets issue is a corrections tradition like no other
A correction to a recent David Carr piece about Trey Parker and Matt Stone is a good reminder of the joys of a well-written correction: "While Kenny met his fate in a variety of ways over the years, he was not routinely 'ritually sacrificed,' " it reads in part.
Lovers of well-written corrections know about The (Seattle) Stranger's annual year-end roundup, "We Regret These Errors."
The piece, published at the beginning of this month, features real mistakes made by the paper during the previous year, as well as a litany of hilarious pseudo-regrets that have little or nothing to do with facts, or journalism, or sometimes even reality.
For example, here's a pair of regrets from the latest edition of We Regret These Errors:
Cienna Madrid, staff writer for The Stranger, regrets accidentally sending an e-mail to a candidate running for office that mocked said candidate's run for office.
In the March 21 issue of The Stranger, we spelled musician and producer Erik Blood's name as Eric. We regret the error.
That's a combination of factual, personal, professional (and uncomfortable) that you rarely see anywhere else in the media, let alone in an annual feature. There's also usually a decent helping of scatological and confessional humor in the issue. To wit:
In an April 2 poll on Slog, associate editor David Schmader asked people to vote on which phrase they found more repellent: food baby (meaning impending poo) or fur baby (meaning beloved dog and/or cat). Food baby won with 62 percent of the vote, which is fine. The problem is the word "repellent" was originally misspelled "repellant." We regret the error.
Sometimes, the staff even writes regrets for other people in the Seattle community, as was the case this year in relation to the Seattle Times company's decision to run free ads for a Republican candidate for governor:
Rob McKenna, the failed Republican candidate for governor, regrets that $80,000 of print ads in the Seattle Times couldn't buy him the governor's mansion.
Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, on a related note, regrets this, too.
Or it says something about the newspaper's larger impact (or lack thereof).
In the first three issues of arts quarterly A&P, we printed the wrong phone number for Town Hall. As far as we can tell, no one ever noticed, proving the near-complete obsolescence of either telephones or print journalism, we're not sure which.
Stranger Editor-in-Chief Christopher Frizzelle said by email that he "created the Regrets Issue back in 2003, "when I was the lowly book critic, and we've done it every year since. That's... 10 years! Sheesh. I'm getting old."
Why did it start in 2003?
"We made a bunch of errors that year," he said.
What made it an annual tradition?
"We make a bunch of errors every year," he deadpanned.
But what really turned it into an annual tradition was the ability to transformed anything into a pseudo correction by adding a magical expression of regret.
"The hook was the phrase 'We regret the error,'" he said. "Slap that phrase onto anything and it's funny. 'Last month, we recommended such-and-such play. We regret the error.' And so on."
Frizzelle says Stranger staffers don't keep a running list of their mistakes during the year, though the paper's copy chief maintains a tally of copy errors.
When someone does make a big mistake, they inevitably bring up the fact that it will offer fodder for the issue.
"'At least we'll have something for the Regrets Issue,' is what we say to each other when, for example, we publish a typo in headline in 143-point type, as we did last spring," he said. "It's just unbelievable that that happened."
Asked to name one regret that stood out over the years, Frizzelle points to a remarkable work of poetry written from the perspective of Katie Holmes' then-unborn child.
"In addition to the one-sentence staff regrets, we do larger boxes pertaining to regrettable news from the year," he said. "In 2005, Katie Holmes's unborn fetus wrote an acrostic sonnet about hoping to be aborted because she was scared of Scientology."
Eat your heart out, David Carr.