We all make mistakes; some are just bigger than others.
That's basically the stance the Arizona Daily Star is taking regarding its ill-timed headline and lede doozy on Sunday, May 2, and Monday, May 3.
To recap: The Star ran a headline and a lede that said "high-ranking government officials" had told the Star that the killer of rancher Robert Krentz was an American. Beyond the headline and lede, the story, written by reporter Brady McCombs, stated only that there was a belief that the suspect could be in the United States, and made no reference to nationality.
Shortly after the headline/lede screw-up, which made it to the Monday, May 3, print-edition front page, the Star backtracked and ran a prominent correction at the newspaper's Web site, azstarnet.com, early Monday afternoon, and on the front page of the Tuesday edition. The Star correction said the error occurred in the editing process.
So how exactly did someone botch something this significant this badly?
"Most stories go through three layers of editing: the reporter's direct editor and two copy editors," said Star executive editor Bobbie Jo Buel-Carter via e-mail. "Some stories are reviewed by many more editors before they make it to the copy desk. In this case, a copy editor was trying to clarify a point in the lede. Ensuring that a story is clear is a big part of what editors do. It's even more important for editors to ask questions. The editor should have consulted with the metro editor on duty that night or called the reporter or his direct editor at home.
"We are re-evaluating every step of how this story was handled. We always do that when we make a mistake. There was adequate staff to handle the story and to discuss it on Sunday."
So the explanation coming out of the compound at Park Avenue and Irvington Road is that the Star simply messed up.
Unfortunately for the newspaper, this was about as big of a screw-up as the Star has endured in recent memory. Yes, mistakes happen, and it sucks. Papers are littered with corrections. In the heat of the situation, humanity's imperfect nature gets in the way, and stuff gets botched.
However, certain mistakes seem to get magnified—and for readers in Southern Arizona, that headline and its accompanying lede might as well have been viewed through the Hubble. That magnification also brings to light a lot of what we already know: This is a headline-news world, and when something with the impact of that hot-button issue makes it onto the front page, it might take awhile to reverse momentum of perception.
Anecdotally, I participated in conversations with friends talking about the U.S.-citizen angle. Some said they had predicted from the start that Krentz's killer could be an American, and that perhaps the murder had little, if anything, to do with drug-running or human-smuggling. Well, that erroneous headline only gave fuel to that speculation. Given the powder keg nature of the Krentz murder and its last-straw springboard implication to the controversial SB 1070 legislation that followed, mistakes like this have far greater implications than, say, misspelling a name.
There's no vindication. Even if information were to come to light that, indeed, the suspect is American, as the headline and lede proclaimed, it wouldn't erase the reality of the Star's error.
(It's worth noting that an Associated Press story that came out on Monday, May 3, reported—also citing an unnamed source—that the Krentz murder suspect is actually "a Mexican who was recently in the United States.")
Despite the Star's significant efforts to correct the mistake, the reverberations of that headline continue, especially for readers with a vested interest in the issue.
Not that the media as a whole have much of a positive reputation these days anyway, but occurrences like this certainly don't help.
The Arizona Daily Star seems to be attempting to get a gauge on what areas of its product are most appealing to readers.
I know this, because I received a phone call asking me to participate in a survey just last week. While most folks consider these things a burden, I tend to enjoy the process, probably due to a rebellious streak that makes me feel edgy—especially because I fudged my response on the first question, which is, "Do you or any family members work for a newspaper, radio or television station?"
(My justification is that since I work for two of those, they kind of cancel one another out. Plus, hey, it's my job to know what's going on in the media world.)
Once I got past that hurdle, I was asked about 15 minutes worth of questions—which I answered in a forthright and honest fashion. I did feel sorry for the surveyor, who was required to read the words "Arizona Daily Star" and "azstarnet.com" on every question. It seemed rather redundant after awhile, but he handled the task in a professional manner. That was pleasing.
My guess is this survey is designed to see whether participants actually read the print edition of the newspaper anymore, or whether most of the readers just go online. They certainly were pushing Star insert sections La Estrella de Tucson and Caliente as well.
At least the Star's print circulation recently made a nice jump—albeit with the help of the void left by the dissolution of the Tucson Citizen. Given the continued circulation decline at most major dailies, any numbers on the upswing, regardless of the reason, must seem like a ray of sunshine, and I'm sure the Star likes the idea of basking in the glow of an average circulation of 108,000.
I hope, in some small way, my participation was helpful. Thanks for calling.