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Grim's Tales: On human error

Every journalist on the planet dreads getting phone calls and emails complaining about something they wrote.

The cause of the dread varies with each story and with each complaint. Some complaints lack merit. There isn't a seasoned reporter out there who hasn't gotten negative feedback simply because a reader didn't like the item being reported on. Some readers do not seem to realize that the newspaper staff does not necessarily agree with everything they report on.

When reporting on political activity, controversial city council discussions or other hot-button issues, it is a common occurrence that someone assumes we write about those things because we are in cahoots with someone involved. They seem to forget that news in its simplest form is saying "this happened" and allowing the reader to take the reins from there.

I think for most responsible reporters, the dread from these types of complaints is nothing when compared to the dread that we have actually messed up and made some form of mistake, especially when that mistake impacts other people. A mere typo is usually victimless, but factual error is not, and these are the bane of a journalist's existence.

I received one such call this past week regarding one of our Pages from the Past entries. I must say that I am amazed at the level of level-headed maturity that exuded from the caller. The caller's complaint had merit, but she was very understanding in spite of a difficult situation I put her in.

For those unfamiliar, Pages from the Past is a collection of bits and pieces of past newspapers from 10, 25, 50 and 60 years ago. When compiling these items I look for funny items, memorable items and items that represent a sort of significant event in our local history, things to which people may respond, "I remember that."

The events from 60 years ago often were perpetrated by people who are no longer living in our area for one reason or another. My error was in treating a more recent event that way.

You can see how old headlines could unearth old hurts and cause difficulty in someone's life. You can also see how this person was justified in calling and in being upset at me. I'm grateful that someone in this difficult position thought it important to call and point this out, and in doing so acted like she was talking to a human being, because most people ignore that last part even though it's true.

On behalf of journalists everywhere, I just wanted to say thank you to her for her considerate, constructive feedback and apologize for my oversight. It was in no way intentional.