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Misspelling names in articles: why it matters and how to avoid it

Misspelling names in articles: why it matters and how to avoid it

Mallary Jean Tenore, in Poynter's "How To's" section, analysed why journalists get names wrong and how they should try to solve this.

Quoting Craig Silverman, author of "Regret the Error", she pointed out that academic research shows that misspelled names are the sixth most common newspaper error. The error is so common, Silverman said, because journalists forget to ask for the right spelling; rather they do it from memory, they assume the name is spelled the "normal way," or they're misled by incorrect sources online.

Tenore underlined that misspelling names is something happens frequently, starting with big newspapers. In some cases newspapers have even misspelled their own names, as happened in 2008 at the New Hampshire's Valley News.

Research has shown that inaccuracies cause the public to lose trust in the media.

Clark Hoyt, public editor of the New York Times from May 2007 to June 2010, wrote an article admitting the paper misspelled names at a "ferocious rate". "A great newspaper has to get the big things right, but it also has to pay fanatical attention to thousands of details every day to prevent the kinds of mistakes that start readers wondering, "If they can't spell his name right, what else is wrong with the story?", he wondered.

Silverman feels the same, and gave Poynter the example of a newspaper that misspelled Abraham Lincoln's name. "You can imagine how maybe it was a slip of the finger, and you can see how it would happen," Silverman said, "but when you're a reader and you see your newspaper has misspelled 'Abraham Lincoln,' there's something about that that's going to strike home with you and make you think, 'Is this really a paper I should be reading?'"

Tenore reported Silverman said that the best way to ameliorate the problem is to start every interview by asking for the correct spelling of the source's name and to do it on a regular basis trying to make it a learned behaviour. "After I've written the story, I double check to make sure the spelling of the name in my story matches the spelling in my notes. And I check the name every time it appears in the story", she wrote.

After all, accuracy is the first way in which journalists can say to their readers that they care about what they are doing.

Sources: Poynter, New York Times, Telegraph



Federica Cherubini's picture

Federica Cherubini


2011-01-25 13:46

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