Star public editor: Typos won’t go away, no matter how we try

By Kathy English, public editor of The Toronto Star

By Kathy English, public editor of The Toronto Star

You just have to feel some sympathy for the unidentified Queen’s Park staffer whose embarrassing typo marred Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s launch Monday of a panel to boost transparency in her government.

“Open Goverment #OpenON,” read the sign on the premier’s podium. As the Star reported Tuesday, when reporters pointed out the error, Wynne laughed awkwardly, asked for a pen, then added the missing “n.”

Typos are always embarrassing and humiliating—especially to the poor person caught out by what is commonly regarded as a “stupid” error. I imagine that unidentified staffer is still cringing.

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Having heard many times from readers pointing out what are of course too many typos in the Star—because one is too many, right?—the universal response to seeing typos in print is generally something like, “How could they not see that?” Little seems to annoy readers as much as these “dumb” mistakes.

In rare cases, readers respond with some measure of lightness. Perhaps they understand that despite the best efforts of writers and editors sometimes we just don’t see that “blatant” error because, as some research into how we make mistakes has found, we see what we expect to see. Our eyes gloss over typos.

I got my own morning smile when reader Catherine Burns sent me a note upon catching reference to a “rap sheep” instead of “rap sheet” in a recent Star sub-headline on an editorial about Mayor Rob Ford’s “rogue cronies.”

“Please tell me this wasn’t a typo. So many great images, possibilities of said rap sheep’s name (Ram-Z?) etc. Gave me a morning smile,” Burns said.

Calgary reader Beverly Smith passed on some fascinating facts when I previously wrote about the scourge of the typo and the Star’s efforts to prevent them.

“Some mistakes end up history,” Smith told me. “Israel Baline’s sheet music was typed as ‘by I. Berlin.’ He liked it and kept the typo. William Falkner’s name was misprinted on a novel as William Faulkner. He liked it and kept it.

“Charles 'Buddy' Holley’s name was misprinted as Buddy Holly and he kept it and same for Dionne Warrick as Dionne Warwick or Orpah Winfrey on her birth certificate misprinted as Oprah Winfrey.”

“Long live the typo,” Smith added.

That’s not to justify or excuse typos in the Star. We have ongoing training efforts here aimed at catching these minor, but irritating, mistakes in the writing, editing and proofreading stages before they are cast in print.

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