Read­ers fume over lat­est Post er­rors

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - An­drew Alexan­der can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at om­buds­man@wash­post.com. For daily up­dates, read the omblog at http://voices.wash­ing­ton­post. com/om­buds­man-blog/.

The hol­i­day sea­son is sup­posed to be a time of hap­pi­ness, but there has been lit­tle cheer from read­ers up­set about a chronic Post prob­lem: a lack of qual­ity con­trol.

The past few years have seen a crescendo of com­plaints about ty­pos, gram­mat­i­cal er­rors and mi­nor fac­tual mis­takes. In re­cent weeks, a string of lapses has height­ened reader despair.

For ex­am­ple, the Page One ta­ble of con­tents in last Sun­day’s Post re­ferred read­ers to the Travel sec­tion in­side the paper. But there was no Travel sec­tion. Nor were read­ers alerted to the change be­yond a small edi­tor’s note a week ear­lier say­ing the sec­tion wouldn’t ap­pear the fol­low­ing Sun­day. Travel Edi­tor Joe Yo­nan ac­knowl­edged the mis­step. That was lit­tle so­lace for read­ers such as Harry Sea­men of Bedford, Pa., who com­plained of mis­spelled words and gram­mat­i­cal er­rors in ad­di­tion to the missing Travel sec­tion. “It’s al­most like a pre-fi­nal edi­tion of the paper got re­leased,” he wrote.

While ty­pos have be­come com­mon in The Post, few have been more con­spic­u­ous than one ap­pear­ing in a head­line over the lead story on last Sun­day’s front page. “ Tim­ing Promps Ethics Ques­tions,” read the sec­ond-tier head­line on the story about mem­bers of Congress who ig­nore ethics rules by fundrais­ing dur­ing cru­cial leg­isla­tive de­bates. The mis­spelled “Promps” (in­stead of “Prompts”) went through the full press run with­out be­ing de­tected by mul­ti­ple editors tasked with en­sur­ing Page One ac­cu­racy.

“Why was prompt mis­spelled, on A1, above the fold?” wrote District reader Amy Schultz. “Not cool!”

“Please be more care­ful in the fu­ture,” Joy Maloney of Ash­burn im­plored in an e-mail. “It makes the paper look bad.”

On the Wed­nes­day be­fore Christ­mas, the en­tire half-page pack­age of list­ings for the fi­nan­cial mar­kets was re­peated from the pre­vi­ous day. Ev­ery chart and in­dex, from the Dow Jones In­dus­tri­als to cur­rency rates to com­modi­ties prices, was iden­ti­cal. Some read­ers who rely on the news­pa­per to track in­vest­ments expressed ir­ri­ta­tion and dis­may. “I find it to be un­be­liev­able that the edit­ing has got­ten so thin that some­thing like this can hap­pen,” wrote Alan Ne­gin of Re­ston.

Sev­eral oth­ers noted that the Fed­eral Em­ploy­ees’ Thrift Sav­ings Plan, listed in each Sun­day’s Busi­ness sec­tion, con­tained per­for­mance rat­ings from Oc­to­ber. “This in­for­ma­tion is of in­ter­est to thou­sands of us ac­tive and re­tired feds,” wrote District reader Sarah Rouse. “Please give us cur­rent data.”

For as­tron­omy buffs and oth­ers, the Dec. 21 to­tal lu­nar eclipse was his­toric be­cause it co­in­cided with the win­ter sol­stice. As a story in that day’s Post noted, this hadn’t hap­pened in roughly 2,000 years. In­ex­pli­ca­bly, The Post wrote about the eclipse af­ter — not be­fore — it oc­curred. That es­pe­cially ran­kled some read­ers who said they would have liked to view it. Al­though it was men­tioned in a Metro sec­tion col­umn in early De­cem­ber and there were pre-eclipse ref­er­ences on­line, Post print read­ers were es­sen­tially in the dark in the days lead­ing to the eclipse.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the eclipse oc­curred at 3:17 a.m., long be­fore the news­pa­per ar­rived atmy front door,” Capi­tol Hill res­i­dent James Wright com­plained in an e-mail. “ The alert would have been more help­ful if it had run ... be­fore the once-in-2,000-year event oc­curred. You cer­tainly can’t claim sur­prise as an ex­cuse.”

Re­porter Martin Weil, who wrote the story that ap­peared af­ter the eclipse, said, “Some­how, this one fell through the cracks, re­gret­tably.”

There were also com­plaints about cov­er­age — or the ab­sence of it — dur­ing the hol­i­day pe­riod. Some read­ers fo­cused on a Dec. 16 anti-war rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, by vet­er­ans and peace ac­tivists. The next day’s Post noted the gath­er­ing with a wire ser­vice photo in­side the Metro sec­tion. It high­lighted Daniel Ells­berg, fa­mous for re­leas­ing the Pen­tagon Pa­pers, and said he and “sev­eral oth­ers” were ar­rested for not dis­pers­ing.

Ac­tu­ally, the U.S. Park Po­lice ar­rested 131 pro­test­ers. “I be­lieve that was our high­est num­ber for 2010 for a mass ar­rest,” Park Ser­vice spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser told me. Staged events with mass ar­rests don’t nec­es­sar­ily have high news value. But 131 ar­rests war­rant more than an in­ac­cu­rate cut­line. The year’s sec­ond-largest num­ber of U.S. Park Po­lice ar­rests took place in late Septem­ber dur­ing a rally at the White House against moun­tain­top min­ing. A photo of that demon­stra­tion was fea­tured on the Post’s front page.

There’s lit­tle doubt that re­duced news­room staffing has taken a toll on Post qual­ity. But many lapses have lit­tle to do with how many are work­ing and ev­ery­thing to do with whether they’re pay­ing at­ten­tion.

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