Editing, editing, editing…

In yesterday’s New York Times, Public Editor Liz Spayd explained why the paper’s sports section doesn’t look like any other newspaper sports section.  And, in doing so (in the print version and first on-line version) made an embarrassing mistake in the very first sentence:

MARCH Madness is a two-week binge of fast breaks and alley-oops, of brilliant shots and embarrassing bricks, of reigning champions and stunning redemptions.

For the record, March Madness (less well known as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament) lasts THREE weeks (you can also question a pluralization of “redemption”).

Someone seems to have clued the Times in to this fact, as the online version this morning (Monday) had it right and included this correction (dated Sunday):

 An earlier version of this column misstated the duration of March Madness. It lasts three weeks, not two weeks.

I have no idea how this mistake could have happened. But in an article that lays out the argument for an almost higher-calling in sports coverage, the Times could not afford to make this easily-avoided error. It hurts their credibility. How can we trust the Times in their plan “to produce a general-interest sports section for a sophisticated global audience” when they don’t get the basics of sports right?

The lesson for all communicators is what I call the Field of Dreams rule. If you are going to base your speech, article, movie, or any other communication around a theme or industry, you have to get that theme or industry 100% right. Otherwise, you immediately lose some of your audience.

In Field of Dreams, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was right-handed; in reality he was left-handed. You may argue (with some merit) that this should not matter – the movie isn’t really about baseball, it’s about (SPOILER ALERT) a man’s relationship to his father and his family. But this error (and one I find more troubling, that Costner’s wife could recite batting averages but asks if Fenway Park is “the one with the big fence”) diminish the movie for people who know baseball, which would presumably be a target audience for the film.

I always encourage my clients, and all writers, to spice up their work with metaphors, comparisons, and references to areas outside of their topic. But, I also tell them that they have to be 100% air-tight on them. Otherwise, the results can be embarrassing.

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