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Wanted: damned lie statistics
Tuesday, March 11, 2008   9:31 PM

A few months ago my company had someone compile a spreadsheet for each of the proofreaders. It was a thing of beauty, with every project we'd worked on in the previous six months color-coded based on the feedback we'd gotten for the finished products. You could tell at a glance how well you'd done, and the unspoken consensus was that all of our spreadsheets had much too much red. That is the color of failure.

("Changes were required due to client error" was light blue, I believe. The color of sanity.)

I've been thinking lately about newspaper error rates. I can't find any hard data on the New York Times error rate, but the paper averages about nine or ten corrections each day, mainly for straightforward factual matters.

(Digression: it perplexes me that these corrections appear online as a single webpage, replaced with new errors each day. Why does no one recognize the bloggy genius of Regret the Error?)

The NYT also still apparently scrubs out some errors for the web edition without comment, as reported on Hit & Run last week. Similarly under the radar are the numerous quote transcription errors, which would be difficult for a busy copy editor to check.

Without delving too deep into this topic, the only hard error-rate data I was able to find online was a Chicago Tribune report from 2003. (There were 1.69 proofreading errors per page.) Customer service editor Margaret Holt described the Trib's accuracy program here.

If anyone has more info on newspaper error rates, pass it along. I can see why newspapers might hold this information close, but for all I know J-school covers this in Copy-editing 101.


Thanks for the kind words about my site (Regret the Error). I tackled the error rate issue in my book, but you can find some free info here:

Excellent, thanks!

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