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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

When mistakes make it into print, readers usually give us an earful

By Anne Harpham

Reporters and editors make their livings with words. Sometimes we pick the wrong ones, leading to confusion or inaccuracy.

The reality is that most such mistakes are spotted and fixed before publication. But when we do let things slip through, readers wonder if we know what we are doing.

A story on the front page a week ago about the personal life of Gov.-elect Linda Lingle misspelled ketch, a kind of sailboat. We left boaters and others chuckling — or groaning — when we spelled it "catch."

More than a few called me, as well as Dan Nakaso, who wrote the story. He, too, is shaking his head because he certainly knew better. And the explanation is one every reporter can relate to. Nakaso was taking notes on his computer during a phone interview. Reporters often write notes in shorthand, spelling words phonetically or using their own code, knowing they will go back and fix strange spellings and the like.

Nakaso, to be sure names are spelled correctly, always spells names back to his sources from his notes and then cuts and pastes the name to transfer it directly to his story, rather than retyping it. He also picked up the section with the reference to a ketch and forgot to correct the misspelling, which he knew was there.

More than one reader called to point out another mental lapse, also in a Page 1 story. The story, written by Karen Blakeman, reported on a decision to restore Pat Caldwell's surf-forecast Web page. Blakeman called Jim Howe, head of the Honolulu Ocean Safety Division, for a comment. This is the quote that appeared: "It's wonderful. It finally sorts it all out scientifically, imperially. It's factual, it's consistent, it's verifiable."

Several readers called to point out that Howe must have said empirically, not imperially. And, indeed, that is what Howe said. In her e-mailed apology to Howe, she noted that she worried about getting surf terms wrong, "not basic English."

And then there was a word we used in a story on Page A3 on Nov. 1 about a judge blocking the Navy from deploying a new high-frequency sonar system used to detect enemy submarines, saying it could endanger marine life.

It was an Associated Press story, but Advertiser reporter Jan TenBruggencate contributed. He quoted Greg Kaufman, president of the Pacific Whale Foundation, who was concerned about sonar's impact on migrating whales: "They have to migrate through these areas, so the Navy is still going to ensonify whales, pregnant whales, other whales with calves."

Readers called to ask what ensonify meant. They couldn't find it in dictionaries. And, in fact, it is not in standard dictionaries. But, it is a word that is scientific jargon, commonly used in scientific circles and coming into more frequent use by environmental groups. TenBruggencate did an online search and found sources on it. One definition: To expose an area or portion of seabed to sonar energy.

But he concedes we should not have used such an uncommon word without explaining it.

• • •

Politics and elections were very much on the minds of our latest group of Advertiser Community Editorial Board members.

In the weeks leading up to the elections and in the weeks after, our board looked hard at the campaigns and what they were saying. Our discussions helped shape our editorial endorsements and gave extra perspective to coverage in this important election year.

Board members in October and early November were:

Lunsford Dole Phillips Susan Kodani

Carl Jacobs Eduardo Hernandez

Bill Russell Cliff Coleman

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser
• Lunsford Dole Phillips, a personal injury, civil rights and disability lawyer who likes to say he is part of the "Woodstock Generation."

• Susan Kodani, president of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and for many years, senior vice-president of the Bishop Museum.

• Carl Jacobs, a senior analyst at Camp Smith and for 20 years a Navy officer with lengthy experience in strategic planning. Jacobs also is active in the Republican Party.

• Eduardo Hernandez, formerly director of development for the Maui AIDS Foundation who now works on O'ahu in fund-raising and organization for AIDS awareness and prevention.

• Bill Russell, who is active as a member of the Kane'ohe Neighborhood Board. He is retired from the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1957, but left early to join the Marine Corps. He is a former Marine Corps officer and transport pilot.

• Cliff Coleman, a longtime life insurance executive, with extensive experience in Japan in the import/export business. Coleman, a classical-music enthusiast, was an early supporter and developer of Hawaii Public Radio.

Senior Editor Anne Harpham is The Advertiser's reader representative. Reach her at 525-8033 or e-mail her at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Bill Russell, who was a member of The Advertiser Community Editorial Board in November and December, is retired from the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C. He was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy, class of 1957, but left early to join the Marine Corps. He is a former Marine Corps officer and transport pilot. A previous version of this column contained incorrect information.