Verification was our topic in “Introduction to Journalism” this week at the University of Illinois. I told the students about a situation a former student had in which a person in line at a Campustown bar assumed another student’s name when he identified himself to her. After the story appeared on local television, the family of the “name” demanded an apology — and got one.
Most reporters don’t ask for a photo I.D. when interviewing people out in public. Maybe we should. The New York Times appears to have been badly stung — unverifiable names and a misspelling all in the same story. Here’s the link: For College Students, Social Media Tops the Bar Scene – NYTimes.com.
When the staff at Brigham Young University’s student paper, the Daily Universe, discovered their error, they pulled printed papers off of newstands and re-printed the edition. What was the big deal? A spelling error called the Latter Day Saints leaders “apostates” instead of “apostles.”
With Easter coming up, I’m reminded of the times I’ve seen “calvary” written as “cavalry.” It’s even hard to say those two words. When I was a little girl, I read Archie and Veronica comic books. Spelling mattered there, too. A love letter addressed to “Angle Face” instead of “Angel Face” caused offense. That letter “L” gets us into all kinds of troubel.
People do care about how to spell. The New York Times editors say their readers know the difference between whiskey and whisky, and the paper has changed its style to accommodate them.
The Web opens some doors for creativity in journalism. But it closes others. Take headlines, for example. On a printed page a headline has to be accurate, same as for the Web. But a print headline also has the context of pictures and related stories, so it can use word play to get a point across and entice the reader to stick around. But on the Web, a headline has to be specific to the Who, What, Where, or it may never be discovered by a search engine. It anticipates the synonyms people might use in searching. Spelling matters more than ever because computers look for exact matches and don’t match the brain for fuzzy logic. I could say more, but other bloggers have beaten me to it.
My headline on this post doesn’t even have a verb, but in print I’d write the following with a deck:
Web needs headlines you can find
In print, they’re right under your nose