Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To Err Is Human, To Forgive Divine

Everyone makes mistakes, yet when you make an error in an obituary -- the final story to document someone's life and achievements -- it is important to immediately fix the problem.

Michelle Martin made such a mistake in the last issue of the Catholic New World. She ran the wrong photo on Father John M. Murphy's obit; the picture actually showed Father Cliff Bergin, who is still among the living. Although the story was later corrected in print, Martin also wrote an entire column of apology to everyone involved.

"My apologies to Father Cliff Bergin, the priest (living, I am happy to say) whose picture ran, and to Father Murphy's family. I'd apologize to Father Murphy, too, but I suspect he isn't so interested in worldly concerns anymore -- and if he was, that his sense of humor would kick in. I hope he would forgive me -- as I hope those who love him, as well as Father Bergin and his family have," Martin wrote.


Alana Baranick said...

It's so true what Martin wrote. "Damage inflicted accidentally still hurts."

For years I've taken pride in my track record on making mistakes. I like to think that my percentage of errors is mighty low. Or it could be that few were noticed.

In the last couple of weeks, way too many obit errors have been cited on The Plain Dealer's corrections page.

They've come in many forms. And not all of them were my fault. But the goof-ups reflect on me anyway.

I was the error-maker-in-chief for an otherwise lovely obit, which ran in my paper (see the links list on the main page) on Jan. 23, 2007, for Lois and Paul Claspy, who met in kindergarten, got married after college and died within a month of each other.

Because they were only in the early 70s, I felt I needed to explain why they were dead. Lois' health declined after she suffered a stroke a few years ago. Paul died of, er, well, that's where I made my mistake.

I wrote that Paul died of complications from "multiple melanoma."

In an e-mail, a woman, who knew the Claspys, praised me for writing such a nice story. Then she sweetly pointed out the error. "I don't think there is such a thing as multiple melanoma," she wrote. There probably isn't. Paul Claspy's problem was "multiple myeloma."

The correction, complete with "because of a reporter's error," set the record straight. But the printed obituary that the Claspy family probably clipped from the paper to save for their records would be forever marred by that one little word.

I feel bad about that. And I feel bad about an error that a layout editor made on the life story feature I wrote for Andy Knaus, which ran Jan. 15, 2007.

The story, pictures, captions and headline were fine. The problem was with the one-line heading, which identifies the half-page package of a 20-inch story with four pictures and a little bio-box as "A Life Story."

The line above the picture of Andy Knaus at a ski resort with his daughter should have said: "A Life Story - Andy Knaus 1919-2006."

Instead it read: "A Life Story - Sophie Morris 1920-2006."

Sophie's life story ran a week earlier and had not been removed from the feature's template.

Luckily, the error was situated at the top of the page and could easily be clipped away.

In Martin's "forgiveness" article, I got a kick out of her comment that "way back in journalism school, I was taught, 'If your mother says she loves you, check it out.'"

It reminded me of B.B. King singing, "Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin' too."

taekwondomom said...

My brother and brother-in-law sent me to the link to this blog. Yes, of course we noticed the mistake in my parents' obit, but mostly we were touched and deeply pleased that my parents got such a lovely write up in their hometown paper.