To err is human — but facts, fairness are our real priority


Back when I had far more time to read books — something that feels like an eternity ago these days — I would come to a complete stop when I found some sort of typographical or grammatical error in the text.

I, or the library I borrowed it from, paid good money for this book, so it shouldn’t be too much to ask that over the months and months it takes to create a typical book, that all such errors are eliminated.

Missing words, wrong words, improper use of a plural verb where a singular one is needed — all of those things can be distracting. And even one or two among tens of thousands of words can affect our opinion on the quality of what we are reading.

That’s certainly what goes through my mind as I’m stuck on the error, fixating on why it exists in the first place. But just as quickly as I stopped, I start reading again, realizing that the author and any editor of the book are human beings — no different than you or I — and no human being is perfect.

Heck, I would love nothing more than to be perfect. But then again, how interesting would a perfect world be? It would lack drama, intrigue, mystery — everything that helps us find wonder in our human existence.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we should just embrace mistakes and not work to avoid them. We absolutely need to do that. It’s just not the end of the world when it happens.

A community newspaper is not typically as long as your standard novel. In fact, it has far fewer words than you might find in something Dan Brown puts out. At the same time, however, we don’t get the luxury of spending months poring over each and every word you read on these pages. In fact, we literally get minutes.

My job as a newspaper editor is an interesting one. Many think all I do is proofread stories, and no word gets published in this paper without passing through me first.

But there is far more to what I do than looking for typos and grammatical errors. In fact, my primary job is not to proofread, but instead to work to ensure this newspaper is covering everything it should be covering, and guiding our news reporters to do just that.

That means working with all the reporters through not just the planning process, but also the reporting and even the actual crafting of each and every story. What our reporters do is very important, and so is the role of the editor to manage that process.

I also have to plan each issue to ensure there is not only page-turning news each week, but enough to fill the newspaper. Good planning has allowed us to keep what we call a “bank” of stories because we end up with more stories planned than we ultimately have room for. At the same time, however, we need to make sure that timely stories run in a timely manner (a story promoting a Valentine’s Day project, for example, wouldn’t do well around St. Patrick’s Day), and that no story eventually falls through the cracks.

A typical issue of The Riverdale Press could end up with more than 15,000 words — maybe even hitting 20,000. That’s Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” times 70. And it’s all written and edited in a very short period of time where the human side of your friendly neighborhood editor, and our newsroom, might become evident from time to time.

The occasional wrong form of “its,” a missing word, even an incorrect capitalization can create sleepless nights for me. But what matters even more to any journalist are the fundamental questions that make us good journalists in the first place: Were we accurate in our portrayal of facts? Were we fair?

We won’t be perfect in those regards, either. But that’s why we value printing corrections and clarifications when we don’t get that right, and giving you a chance to call us out on these very opinion pages if you don’t think we’re being fair.

It’s hard for any of us to read anything anywhere, even in The Press, and not stop for a second when we find the occasional mistake in grammar or spelling. And yes, we do know better — but we are just human. While we don’t want to do anything to delay your reading, we also hope you’ll remember that we are people, too, and that we’re focusing on putting out complete, accurate and fair stories. And if there is something really to judge us on, it’s not a few incorrect words out of thousands, but how effectively we bring to light the stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told in our community.

I spent a few days over the holidays in my small Pennsylvania hometown, where solid community journalism is hard to come by. Property taxes are higher than most other places in the state. Simple things like water bills start at nearly $100 a month (and set to rise even higher), and one has to wonder if code enforcement even exists there.

But when a community has a good solid newspaper like what we have in Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill, our quality of life is better.

Our focus is keeping our community great, talking up not only the good but also exposing the bad. It’s not about selling newspapers, but instead finding solutions.

And we look forward to continuing to do that as we start our 70th year in 2019.


The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.

Michael Hinman,