Editorial: Of errors and excellence

In his final column as The Washington Post ombudsman, Andrew Alexander asked the question: Will The Post’s “reputation for journalistic excellence . . . endure?” That Alexander happens to be a part-time resident of Rappahannock County only makes his lament more poignant, for we here at our own, relatively teeny-tiny, newspaper operation face many of The Post’s same problems.

Lots of the countless emails and calls Alexander fielded during his two-year tenure as the “readers’ representative” complained that “The Post’s journalistic quality has declined. It’s a view I share . . . . It has become riddled with typos, grammatical mistakes and intolerable ‘small’ factual errors that erode credibility.”

The explanation, of course, lies in the diminished resources with which The Post and other newspapers must work in these challenging economic times, especially for the print publishing business.

But that explanation should not be taken as an excuse. Rather, we here at the Rappahannock News, as at The Post, are committed to getting things right. And when we don’t, we hope readers will alert us as quickly and directly as possible. Then we can endeavor to correct these mistakes, also as directly and quickly as possible.

In recent weeks, for example, someone who was mentioned in one of our village columns called to point out a factual error. Within hours the corrected story was posted on our Web site, and then a formal correction was printed in the following week’s paper.

In our front-page round-up of local events and happenings — called “The Rapp” — we even got the name of an Oscar-nominated major motion picture wrong — turning “The Social Network” into “The Social Connection.” Understandable perhaps, but still embarrassing.

More embarrassing still — at least for me personally — was to be told that one of my editorials in this space got a common idiom confused. People in Culpeper County “could care less” about a development’s external costs to be born by people in Rappahannock County, I wrote. Of course, what I meant was that they “couldn’t care less.”

The reader who pointed this out was almost apologetic, as if she might be hurting my feelings. But she had no cause to worry. We
here at the Rappahannock News, as at most newspapers, have very thick, even calloused, skin.

So please don’t hesitate in letting us know any time we don’t meet the standards we should. We’ll appreciate it.

Walter Nicklin

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