It doesn't sound like the ideal job description: fielding complaints and handling other people's mistakes.

But somehow, Ian Mayes, the ombudsman at The Guardian in London, manages to turn such a fraught enterprise into something quite entertaining.

"On Page 8 of Monday's sport section," he wrote last October, "we captioned a picture: 'Mark Rivers swoops in on Tranmere Rovers' Alan Mahon during Crewe Alexandria's 2-0 win.' The Crewe player was Shaun Smith, not Mark Rivers. The Tranmere player was Dave Challinor, not Alan Mahon. Crewe did not win 2-0. They lost 2-0."

If you're going to get it wrong, why not be thorough?

Some mistakes in newspapers are just typos or omissions, of course. Others, would make good candidates for nonsense verse:

"The airplane was only a few feet from the ground when it crashed, witnesses said."

The purpose of these corrections columns, squeezed into the inside pages, is to acknowledge that reporters and editors are not infallible (hard as it may be for us to accept). And to reassure the public that mistakes are duly noted, and accuracy and fairness are as important to the writer as to the reader.

Before the ombudsman came on the scene, newspapers had a long history of not correcting errors or simply burying them on the back page.

So to avoid any suggestion of that, I would like to apologize now for any present or future mistakes that may appear in this column. And I hope, dear reader, you will simply smile and turn the page.

*Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments or questions? Send e-mail to

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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