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Daily Planet mistakes are laughable

David Couch Berkeley
Saturday April 20, 2002

To the Editor: 

I hope you are aware of the need to improve the quality of the copy editing in The Berkeley Daily Planet. I have almost come to look forward to finding amusing, perplexing or embarrassing bloopers in your headlines and articles, but sometimes the errors are disturbing. 

Most important, please ensure that staff members at least read the articles before they write the headlines! 

I was disturbed to see the April 17 headline "Claremont anti-Semite suspect sketched" above an article in which a police sergeant stated clearly that the crime (an assault) was probably a simple robbery, and there was no evidence that it was a hate crime or had anything to do with anti-Semitism. The article did not quote any opposing opinion. Maybe the copy editor thought the article should have contained an opposing opinion, but the purpose of a headline is not to argue with the article. I realize that the April 5 account of this assault quoted witnesses who believed it was anti-Semitic, but that is really not relevant to the headline of the later article. (That earlier crime report, in another blooper, was misleadingly headlined "The Jews are attacked near campus" instead of "Two Jews attacked near campus.") 

I think it is especially important for your articles and headlines to be consistent and accurate when you are writing about sensitive issues such as racism, anti-Semitism or ethnic bigotry, to avoid fanning flames of fear, suspicion or anger. 

On a lighter note, an amusing April 12 headline stated that "Berkeley may ban cutting old growth forest: Passage could have $10 million annual impact on the timber industry." (There sure must be a lot of old growth timber in Berkeley, eh? No, the article was actually about a statewide ballot measure that the Berkeley City Council might support.) 

I am sure your staff all winced reading the front page headline on April 15: "List of opponents for Mayor Dean dwindle" (instead of "dwindles"). 

On the positive front, I think you have stopped writing "jews" instead of "Jews." Thanks. I remember noticing on March 18, for example, that Jews were called "jews" throughout a letter you published (which was supportive of Israel) and in the headline of an adjacent opinion piece (which was about Jewish criticisms of Israeli policy), but remained "Jews" throughout the opinion piece. I know, that is a very confusing sentence! Well, it was a very perplexing moment for me; I thought maybe you had just printed the letter as written and it contained the error (but I am sure you agree with the standard newsroom practice of quietly correcting errors in spelling or capitalizing in letters you print). Then I started to get paranoid, wondering whether somebody in the newsroom was trying to insult Jews by "lowering their case" (so to speak). But eventually I concluded it was just lack of attention at the copy desk. 

I know there are more important things to worry about, but we readers do notice these errors. And as you can see, sometimes they disturb us in unforeseen ways! And even when the errors are not serious, they do affect our judgment about whether your paper should be taken seriously. 

(P.S. I am assuming that the task of copy editing includes headline writing as well as checking articles for style, grammar and consistency; please forgive me if other staff are responsible for these matters.) 


- David Couch