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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2004

Even small oversights make a big difference

By Anne Harpham

A couple of recent errors in the pages of The Advertiser are a good reminder to our staff that readers rely on us to be correct, and that it can be an appreciable inconvenience when we fail to double-check information.

In one case, readers made trips to various Longs Drugs stores for skin-cancer screenings that weren't being held yet. In another, we left readers scrambling in the middle of making a recipe because of a missing ingredient.

And one recent error gave wrong, potentially dangerous advice. As a result, the corrected advice was run more than once.

On April 24, we published a formula for furniture polish. In checking on what linseed oil to use, editors went to several Web sources and assumed that when boiled linseed oil was called for, it meant linseed oil boiled by the consumer. In fact, the sites were calling for a product known as boiled linseed oil. Raw linseed oil is flammable and should not be boiled at home.

We got several calls from readers after we ran an item saying free skin-cancer screenings would be available May 3 at several Longs stores. The screenings will be May 26. We relied on information from a source and it was wrong.

In another case, a couple of readers called as they were making a recipe for Hot and Sour Cabbage that we published April 21. The text told readers to add salt, but we didn't tell readers how much. Better copy-editing and proofreading would have caught that problem.

• • •

The Merrie Monarch hula festival is a monumental undertaking for all involved, and at The Advertiser, we send a reporter and photographer to Hilo, Hawai'i, each year to cover it. Because the competition goes late into the night — particularly on Saturdays, when the results are announced — publishing the list of winners can cause logistical problems.

This year, we did not get complete results for both Miss Aloha Hula and halau competitions in the paper as promptly as some readers wanted. In one case, we could have done more to get results in the next morning's paper; in another, the lateness of the event meant that very few papers would have carried complete results.

We heard on Friday morning, April 16, from readers who were unhappy that we reported only the name of the new Miss Aloha Hula, and did not list the runners-up. We responded immediately by getting the runners-up in the Friday afternoon edition and posting them online.

But readers of the morning edition should not have had to wait until Saturday morning to get the complete list of runners-up. Nor should they have been forced to turn to other media for the information. There was a failure on our part in not remembering that readers are interested in Merrie Monarch results and don't want to have to wait for them. We had those names in time to get them in the paper, and should have.

On Sunday, we listed the top winners in each division on Page A4. Many readers told us that was not enough; they wanted the names of all halau that had placed.

Because of the lateness of the Merrie Monarch results — around midnight — and the length of our Sunday press run, it would have meant late delivery of papers to wait until we had the complete results.

The news desk decided to get the top winners in the paper and tell readers complete results would be available online. We're not happy about that, but we also know most of our readers want their papers delivered on time. Those are the priorities we have to balance.

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