Actual catches made as a copy editor or proofer on copy about to go to press:
Table of Contents
Confusing sentence construction:
- Original: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has reached another settlement with a man who was abused by a Milwaukee priest in California, a lawyer involved in the case said Tuesday. The settlement is in addition to nearly $17 million that the archdiocese and its insurer paid as part of a 2006 settlement with 10 victims.
This sounds as if the same man had received a second settlement from the archdiocese. But the story actually was about a previously unreported victim of a priest who had been convicted in an earlier high-profile case involving many victims.
Edited: The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has reached a settlement involving another California sexual abuse case, a lawyer said Tuesday. The settlement is unrelated to nearly $17 million that the archdiocese and its insurer paid as part of a 2006 settlement with 10 victims.
- Original: Keeton Manguso, who was 2 years old and weighed 24 pounds when he was bitten on Mother’s Day 2005, suffered bite marks on his arms, hip and back, and the dog didn’t get off until a former college football player punched him in the head.
The football player had actually punched the dog, (which is an “it” not a “him”) not the child, in the head.
Edited: the dog didn’t get off the child until a former college football player punched it in the head.
- Original: A man accused of stabbing his neighbor to death more than 100 times has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial.
You can only kill someone once.
Fixed: A man accused of killing his neighbor by stabbing him more than 100 times has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial.
In a 2009 story about a festival in a predominantly white suburb during which several disorderly conduct arrests were made, police were quoted in the lead sentence as blaming the fights on “rap music” and on “young people from outside the community.” A few paragraphs down, police reported that of the 40 youths arrested, none were from the suburb. Finally, we had a top police official saying the rap music has “brought in an element that we certainly don’t want to see at Jansen Fest.”
I immediately recognized that many readers would assume that those arrested were people of color and that the comments from police officials sounded racist. But at that point, we didn’t know the color of those attending or arrested.
Not until nearly the end of the story did the reader see comments that offered another view: the spokeswoman for the group that organized the event said that rap music had caused no problems at the festival in the previous two years and that she had observed this year’s music being enjoyed by youths from the suburb and their parents.
I got the news editor to agree to move her comments to the third paragraph, for the sake of balance. The next day, we learned that police had, in fact, arrested several residents of the suburb in question, and that nearly all of the arrested individuals were white.
An AP story and accompanying graphic having to do with a Centers for Disease Control study on STDs in teen girls broke out statistics by race, and went on to list “black, white and Mexican-American.
I consulted our news editor about this unusual singling out of a specific nationality of Hispanics, and neither he nor I could find any previous CDC reports online that said “Mexican-American” vs. “Hispanic.” Recognizing that this could be construed as singling out Mexicans, we deleted the references in both the story and the graphic. Because the story did not provide any reason for the unusual category, we could not defend its use should readers ask or complain about it. Later, the news editor told me he noticed that the New York Times, which ran the same wire story, also deleted the reference to Mexican-Americans, which makes us think editors there reached the same conclusion.
Going the extra mile to check facts:
- In a front page story on urban beekeeping, I discovered that a professor and Apiculture Institute instructor quoted in the story shared the same name as a registered Wisconsin sex offender.
I contacted the reporter, who checked on the professor’s middle initial, and luckily, it was different from the sex offender’s. We inserted the middle initial before the story went to press.
- In a story running in December 2007: Dogfighting busts have soared nationally since April, when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was first implicated in a dogfighting operation in Virginia. In the seven months since Vick’s arrest, authorities have uncovered nearly 129 dogfighting operations nationwide – including the two in Milwaukee – one shy of the total for the 16 months that ended in December 2006, he said.
But my check of archives showed that Vick was not arrested in April, although his home was raided then and police found evidence of a dogfighting operation. Vick was indicted in July. Also, December is 8 months after April, not 7. So I edited the sentences thus:
Dogfighting busts have soared nationally since April, when Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was first implicated in a dogfighting operation in Virginia. In the eight months since the Vick case broke, authorities have uncovered nearly 129 dogfighting operations nationwide – including the two in Milwaukee – one shy of the total for the 16 months that ended in December 2006, he said.
Tripped up by trivia:
- In a front page story about the grand opening of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, the reporter interviewed a woman whose father had glued thousands of rhinestones on his motorcycle. The next line described the objects as precious stones.
I got the word, “precious” dropped, as rhinestones are glass fakes, not precious or even semi-precious gems.
- A story about the Virginia Tech shootings contained this sentence: One student shot a brief video using his silver Nokia N70 Smart Phone.
My research indicated that this model of cell phone is silver and black and is not capable of shooting video. We changed it to just say “cell phone.”
- In a story about the horrible winter of 1885-’86: It was long before the first Model T rolled off of Henry Ford’s assembly line.
City swells paraded in horse-drawn sleighs around the snowy town. Workers hopped on streetcars. Those who wanted to travel a bit further took trains.
Streetcars? Then? Not as we know them. The author meant horse-drawn streetcars. (Also, I corrected the sentence to say farther, not further.)
- He first got his inspiration at the old Milwaukee County stadium when the Brewers were playing. He was living up near Eau Claire at the time and attended a game in 1958.
The Brewers didn’t come to Milwaukee until 1970; in 1958, the city’s team was called the Braves.
- The mother worked as a pathologist, but said she wanted to go back to school to get her master’s degree.
A pathologist is a medical doctor. The story was corrected to say, “pathologist’s assistant.”
Commas to the rescue:
- Original: Experts believe the boats were meant to ferry the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid in the afterlife.
Since he could not have built the pyramid in the afterlife, I simply added two commas:
Edited: Experts believe the boats were meant to ferry the pharaoh, who built the Great Pyramid, in the afterlife.
- Original: The judge said in letters to the parties she planned to participate in all the cases, but she dropped out of one of them after a lawyer asked her to step aside.
She planned parties? It could be read that way at first glance.
Edited: The judge said, in letters to the parties, that she planned to participate in all the cases, but she dropped out of one of them after a lawyer asked her to step aside.
- Original: January ridership fell 8% on the Milwaukee County Transit System, from 4.23 million last January to 3.82 million, the bus system reported.
Actually, that comes to 9.7%.
- Original: A 2008 story about Guam rails (birds) said snakes were probably introduced to Guam during WWII. Then it stated: Now, 40 years later, virtually no rails survive on the Guam shores.
Try, “more than 60 years.”
- Original: A story on sports training said a local facility charges between $10 and $20 for an hour to 90 minutes of training. The story went on to describe a father who was considering purchasing 26 sessions at a rate of $671.25 for a series of lessons for his son.
Not only is that not a “rate,” but it would come to $25.82 per session. The edited sentence said the father was “considering spending more than $600 for a series of lessons for his son.”