Editor column: Front-page photo failure shows that we can do better, and we will

By Tim Fitzpatrick

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: November 3, 2012 08:08PM
Updated: March 6, 2013 11:31PM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City - Tim Fitzpatrick - Deputy Editor.

Anybody see Joe Andrade’s photograph on the front page of Thursday’s Tribune?

Neither did I.

Andrade, a third-party candidate for Congress who was already fighting an uphill battle for recognition, finally made it to the front page of The Tribune Thursday, but his photo came out as an unrecognizable blotch because of a reproduction error. We did run a proper photo of Andrade on Page A2 Saturday, but that’s not the same as getting it right the first time.

It’s no comfort to Andrade, but it wasn’t our first mottled image to run recently. We are reviewing all of our processes to eliminate poor image quality in our news pages.

In our business, perfection may be elusive, but improvement must be constant. So much of any news organization’s credibility is wrapped up in its ability to avoid errors large and small.

The reality is that we have fewer people who come behind to check things. In addressing the tightening revenue picture that all newspapers face, we have made news gathering our highest priority. Good editors make our news better, but it takes good reporters to provide that news in the first place. We still have the people we need to edit and design a quality metropolitan newspaper like The Tribune, but we’re relying more on the skills and professionalism of the content producers — reporters and photographers — to produce mistake-free work.

We also are relying more on technology. With the Web putting information at our fingertips, checking facts has gotten faster and easier. We also have spell-checks and other error-detection software. And we’ve become more efficient. For instance, time saved by using reusable page templates is time that can be spent on getting things right.

It’s in print that our mistakes are most glaring. Ink doesn’t erase. One of the great advantages to Web publishing is that errors can be corrected instantly. In the paper, mistakes live forever, or at least until we can correct them in a future paper.

Print or Web, it is no small task to produce error-free content. First consider that a longer newspaper story contains 100 facts or more, and then think back to school days. If a student got two out of 100 facts wrong, that’s 98 percent and an “A.” But that’s not the standard for a reporter, who will feel the public’s (and his editor’s) wrath if he blows not one but two facts in a single story. If the reporter repeats that performance a couple more times, the newspaper will have a job opening.

Please don’t hesitate to point out our mistakes, even the most minor typographical errors. You can send us an email at webmaster@sltrib.com (or to individual reporters and editors). You can give us a call at 801-257-TRIB, or you can point out the mistake in the online comments accompanying the story. (We do monitor the comments.) We would rather talk to an annoyed reader than have that reader take the complaints to the office water cooler or corner bar instead.

Quality journalism takes a human touch. That means it will always be imperfect, even as we put our hearts into seeking excellence. Everyone remembers the first half of Alexander Pope’s famous line, “To err is human.” Here’s hoping they also recall the second part: “To forgive, divine.”

Tim Fitzpatrick is The Tribune’s deputy editor. He can be reached at fitz@sltrib.com.