berthahenson

Saying sorry

In News Reports, Society, Writing on July 2, 2012 at 12:12 am

It’s been a sorry-ful week for ST. First, its ed-in-chief had to apologise not once, but twice, for the Stomp fiasco. It had to suffer SMRT’s account of time spent, energy wasted, resources expended trying to check out that erroneous picture of a carriage door left open while the train was moving. I can almost detect its glee, especially since it was the ST which broke its graffitti on train story a couple of years ago. Plus it hadn’t been too happy with ST’s coverage of the Committee of Inquiry into its lapses. I suppose better to grovel than get sued. I wonder if money changed hands.

Then there was a Sorry on today’s back page in Sports. Result of using spell-check function unthinkingly. Seems the last line of defence crumbled in this case. So Euro 2012 became Hero 2012 and Croatia became carotid in yesterday’s SunTimes report. Reading it yesterday, I was thinking that maybe it was talking about two footballers – one Andres Iniesta and another Andrews Anisette. I don’t know much about football you see.

Another sorry is on page 4 – the strangest sorry of all. ST is apologising for a MAY 16 report quoting sources saying that Tan Chee Kien of National Solidarity Party picked up nomination papers for Workers’ Party Poh Lee Guan during the Hougang by-election. “Mr Tan informed us that he didn’t do so”, ST said. When did he do this? Yesterday? Last week? Last month? Or two months ago? Sheesh. I can’t even recall the inaccurate article.

It’s hard for a newspaper to say sorry – because it prides itself on writing the truth (or at least the facts). The accuracy culture is  deeply ingrained in every journalist. In ST, there is an editor in charge of accuracy who investigates every lapse. At least, I think there’s still one. Every error is noted and measures taken to ensure that error-prone journalist, whether reporter or sub-editor or photographer or editor, gets “knocked’ in annual appraisal exercises. New reporters know the feeling of not being able to get a good night’s sleep because they wonder if the story they wrote for publication was 100 per cent accurate. When I was a rookie reporter, I used to wait for the newspapers to hit my door, open the page to where my story was, read and re-read. Not with pride, mind you. But in fear and trepidation.

I have seen – and even instituted – measures that can be pretty draconian.There was a Wall of Shame a long time ago in the ST newsroom, giving names and reasons for why this or that lapse occurred. It had to be taken down because it was too demoralising for journalists. I mean, how can you explain being “careless”? And how would you rectify this? By being “careful”?

I recall once I was so fed-up to my teeth with “careless” mistakes slipping into copy that I arranged for the offending reporter to meet the Editor face-to-face to explain why she/he had screwed up the newspaper. I don’t think any reporter who went through this can forget this exercise…it was extreme punishment.

Now what for the ST? I suppose lines of checks will be re-looked, ethics courses emphasised, all journalists will get a dressing down, some examples will be made of errant journalists. Clean house. And may ST never have to say sorry for a long, long time.

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