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Waters Log

Screwing up

By June 12. 2012 11:05AM

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Sometimes we screw up. Big time. Or, more accurately, sometimes I screw up. Big time.

The upside of making an error in the days of online journalism is you can go into your content management system and quickly change the story. You can even delete the entire erroneous passage with one click, cleaning the crime scene without any fancy chemicals. The downside in the online days is you can go into your content management system and quickly see how many people have read the story. That can be the second punch to the gut after first learning about your mistake.

It's more difficult in print, especially at a weekly where you have to wait 7 days to rectify the mistake.

So my screw up was in the June 11 Grapevine column. There were two items about Democrats who recently became (public) supporters of plans to realign higher ed in New Jersey by signing on as key sponsors of the legislation. One item focused on Joe Vitale in the Senate; the other was about John Wisniewski in the Assembly. The problem is, the source for the Wisniewski item was really talking about Vitale. I realized the mistake when someone commented on the Grapevine column, and I went back to the source to ask about it. I quickly realized how I had misunderstood the original conversation with the source—and 1,000 ways I could have prevented the error.

For me, the unsettling thing about the Grapevine column is that we use unnamed sources; so if something is wrong, the reader has no idea where the info came from. That has actually been a rare problem—somewhat surprisingly. Out of 256 Grapevine items we published in the column's first year, we got five wrong, and—now—one error in the first six months of the column's second year. Obviously, I'd prefer that the error count was zero, and I'll let you decide if six is low—or high—for 18 months of a column that is often the first to report things that haven't been announced, and sometimes are not even finalized.

On the June 11 error, it's good the source wasn't named because the fault was all mine. So for the—accurate—record: Wisniewski was never stripped of his transportation committee chairmanship. And a political observer explained to me yesterday that Wisniewski was already in the good graces of South Jersey Democrats, and would not have had to do anything to re-earn their favor. My apologies, again, to Assemblyman Wisniewski.

Managing Editor Joe St. Arney joked that he should list me as a loser in the June 18 NJBIZ Winners/Losers column. It would certainly be fitting, right? But maybe a blog post is enough.

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