Friday, October 15, 2004

The Grauniad - A Bad Day

The Guardian's nickname arises from its alleged tendency towards original and amusing typo errors. Everyone has a fave, for example the near-legendary occasion when they managed to review a production of Doris Godunov. One of the paper's former editors claims that the reason for this reputation is buried in a British Railways working timetable from the mid-1950s, back in the days when the paper was still the Manchester Guardian. As the paper was printed in Manchester, its first edition had to catch a specific mail train in order to hit the newsstands of London every morning. Therefore, all the paper's deadlines were defined by the time that crucial train pulled out of Manchester Piccadilly station on the 180 or so mile trip south. (One imagines steam in the coal-smoke darkness of the small hours in Mancland, men heaving bundles of Grauniads into the mail vans at the last moment before the whistle blew)

The northern editions didn't need such haste, and therefore they could go to press later. Vitally, this interval permitted the whole paper to be proofed before printing. The London edition, though, had to skip this process - it had a train to catch. Of course, all other national media were based in London, with the result that the Guardian's image was irredeemably marked by that damn timetable. Later, after the move to London, the revolutionary changes in publishing technology, there was no longer any such cause. But the typos had eaten deep into the paper's institutional culture, so much so that it seems to play up to it. Alone until recently among British newspapers, it publishes a daily corrections column. It even published a collection of the best corrections in book form. Despite this admirable commitment to typographical perfection, though, sometimes the old disease pops up and isn't corrected.

On Wednesday, then, the Grauniad succeeded in referring to the philosopher Ronald Barthes, and topped that by misspelling its own title as the Guardain. Neither have so far been corrected. Yesterday, in an article about environmental threats, it stated that the Greenland ice sheet contained 2.6 cubic kilometres of water. A fair drop, but hardly enough to raise the level of the Atlantic by 7 metres or to make up 6% of the water on Earth. But then again, journalists famously count like the rabbits in Watership Down: one, two, three, many.

Wonderfully, I searched the Grauniad's website (sorry, wesbite) for the typos and they are still there: Guardain

And it wasn't the first time either

Ronald Barthes

Depressingly, though, the Grauniad has corrected the online version of the Greenland teaspoon story, found here. That should have been 2.6 million cubic km. So you'll all have to trust me.

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