Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A letter to the editor has led to me needing to make a correction… and yet I’m relieved about it, because it’s not the problem with the article I had expected.

An article I wrote for the paper a week ago was long, technical, and wound up being sort of rushed. As I was working on it Wednesday morning I noticed a discrepancy in two sets of budget percentage increases, and despite two phone calls I didn’t get an explanation that made sense to me. Both people in the superintendent’s office I talked to agreed about which set of numbers I should use and rely on, but they couldn’t adequately explain what the other meant.

But it was a timely story, so even apart from what to do with the space otherwise (a significant problem on its own, of course), my editor had to run it almost no matter what. I filed it, and I was careful with the language and he knew I was trying to be careful, but that was about it. I left on Wednesday worried that the article was greatly misleading, or that I had misunderstood something really important. Budget fraud I failed to catch? Or a really simple, stupid misunderstanding that’s obvious to everyone else? And in either case, something I should have made clear and explicit to my editor — but didn’t? Uh oh.

Today, my editor forwarded to me a letter to the editor about one of my schools that mentioned a different set of tax rates than the ones I had used. After a few minutes checking, it turns out that this has nothing to do with the budget percentages that I was worried about. He said it’s a big problem, and writing a correction will be the next thing I do after this, but it was definitely a relief that it wasn’t the problem I had built up in my head.

Then again, though, my relief may just be because he’s so casual about it. He barely seems to care about this. I mean, we’re running a correction, and accurate tax rates are, in fact, pretty important details to an article, but he’s casual about it, so I can be too. The only problem with the article (so far :)) is an honest mistake, not anything really incompetent or unethical.

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