Thursday, June 14, 2007

Newspaper boo-boos and their possible repercussions

Working on the desk of a newspaper organization may not be as glamourous as being a reporter. Bringing out exclusives, meeting up with he rich and famous, dodging the talons of the mafia and the government to get out a scoop or receiving accolades for doing a fantabulous story are not the things that a sub-editor has the opportunity to do. Standing in the middle of the Kargil war giving an eye-witnessed account or exposing the corruption scams in the government is very much part of the glamourous-but-hard life an in-the-field reporter.

In fact, sitting in front of a computer, checking grammatical errors, doing dollar-to-rupee conversions, selecting pictures and finally making the final product that the readers would see and read…the product that would bring laurels to the reporter, while the sub slinks in the background, is hardly anything to be compared with the racy job a star journalist.

ALTHOUGH…being in the background may not look as interesting and fabulous, but that certainly does not take away the importance of the sub-editor’s job. In fact…(and a wicked grin now adorns my round face) people in the outside world have no clue as to how a mere sub can simply change the course of history. Albeit the act of doing something like that may be completely unintended.

In today’s electronic era, when the debate on ‘the survival of the newspaper’ is growing hotter by the moment and newspapers are increasingly being generated as e-papers, the archival value of the written word gets incremental. This makes the sub’s work all the more important. Take for instance, any mistake that may have gone into an article because of a sub’s callousness, or just by sheer confusion, a sub manages to commit an error of commission, THAT error stays in the paper not only as hard evidence for time immemorial, but also every time someone googles (and c’mon face it…the site has become a part of our lives; how many of us actually go to a library to research anymore! — the omission of the question mark is deliberate) anything related to a topic, there is a huge chance that the person searching for information may get the wrong information, just because of a sub’s lack of focus. Thereby, starting a whole chain process, wherein that false information has a chance of being repeated ‘N’ number of times unless one is very careful.

Now, face it…isn’t that scary or what???

But then, here’s the funny bit. If it does ever come out that the information printed was wrong, it isn’t the sub who will be blamed for it, it is, in fact, the “star” reporter—whose byline went with that story—who will be at the butt of all jokes and subject of ridicule. And while all this goes on, the subs sit meekly on their chair slinking in the background and shielded by a shroud of anonymity.

Imagine the craziness that can ensue from such a mistake committed by a person on the desk. How about a situation where the sub was part of a well-established and highly respected newspaper, and years later, someone digs out some data for a project from the Internet and blindly follows them, just because the person trusts that particular publication…a sub’s minor mistake of, say wrongly converting lakhs into millions, thus, changing the numbers significantly, acts as the basis of an entire report in the future, thereby possibly affecting some major decisions. (Now…I do realize that I may be over-reacting, but this is a possibility nevertheless.)

Imagine what power a single anonymous sub-editor has in those dainty li’l fingers.

Oh my!

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