LAT's 'anti-abortion' opera

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Here's why reporters want newspaper corrections to make clear that an editor is at fault for an error introduced to their copy. Last week, the L.A. Times' Mark Swed filed a review of the opera "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" at the Music Center. He wrote that the Richard Strauss epic is "an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean..." But when it ran in the paper, pro-life had been changed to anti-abortion.

Swed was reportedly mortified, since the opera is not remotely about abortion. On Feb. 25, the Times ran this correction:

Opera review -- A review of Los Angeles Opera's "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" in Tuesday's Calendar section incorrectly characterized the work as "anti-abortion." In fact, there is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation.

Swed was again not amused, since his name was on the piece -- he had been made to look stupid to his readers and to the opera community. If they thought he had misread the work, it might affect how opera fans, players and producers regard him in the future. He apparently demanded a second correction, which ran the following day:

Opera review -- A correction in Wednesday's paper about the review of Los Angeles Opera's "Die Frau Ohne Schatten" incorrectly implied that it was the reviewer who characterized the work as "anti-abortion" in Tuesday's Calendar. As the correction should have made clear, the lead paragraph submitted by the reviewer was incorrectly changed to include the term "anti-abortion." There is no issue of abortion in the opera, which extols procreation.

Ah, but there's more. Copy editors and others have never liked that editing mistakes are made note of in the paper, while blame is rarely assigned for reporting mistakes. I've always felt that the more information you can give readers the better, because in fact many politicians and other public figures who deal with many reporters are keeping score on who makes which mistakes. Some bloggers do too. But in response to the opera gaffe, the LAT's Readers' Representative sent out a missive reminding the staff that Times policy is not to clarify where in the chain the error occurred, based on the belief that "readers don't care."

That memo follows:

Just a reminder: The Times' policy is that corrections simply correct the misinformation without assigning blame. The thinking is that readers don't care who made the mistake. Here's how the policy spells it out:

Corrections will not assign blame. (If a reporter on a story that has been corrected because of an editing error believes his or her credibility will be hurt with a source, he or she may ask an editor to contact the source to exonerate the reporter.)

Corrections should not say if it was an editing error or a reporting error, and should not imply fault to a wire service by mentioning it in the correction.

The policy, and a memo on writing corrections, can be found in the staff news basket...

If you have questions, please let me know. Thanks.

Jamie Gold
Readers' Representative

Tagline: As of today, March 3, at 4 p.m., the erroneous story than ran in the paper remains on the LAT website with no correction attached.

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