Fired for factual errors: when the punishment doesn’t fit the crime

In a column for the Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman, the self-described “errors guy” of Regret the Error fame, sticks up for fired Telegraph-Journal intern Matt McCann.

McCann, a journalism student at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, was working as a summer intern at the Telegraph-Journal when he wrote a front-page story that ultimately got him fired.

Silverman wrote:

“The errors were easily preventable and should not have appeared in the story. As far as them being a firing offense, however, I’ve never heard of anyone being let go for mistakes of this nature. Far more experienced journalists have repeatedly made worse mistakes and kept their jobs. Certainly that’s nothing to be proud of, but the Telegraph-Journal held McCann to a standard that other staffers can’t possibly meet.

“So, yes, the errors guy is sticking up for someone who admittedly made three sloppy mistakes. Almost no one should be fired for making three factual errors. We all make them. What matters is that you learn from them, correct them, and work to prevent them in the future. Firing someone doesn’t teach him how to be more accurate. It could also create a culture of fear in the newsroom.”

He goes on to compare the treatment of McCann to that of Wired editor Chris Anderson, when it was revealed that he used unattributed passages from Wikipedia in his recent book Free.