Dallasnews.com: Caught red-handed

Written by Adrian Holovaty on March 14, 2003

Spotted about 45 minutes ago on the home page of the Dallas (Texas) Morning News (note the caption):

Screenshot of dallasnews.com lead story, with photo of young boy and girl

Not only is the photo overly distorted; the caption is flat-out incorrect. The young boy on the left side of the photo is not Brian David Mitchell, the man who is suspected of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. The young boy is Elizabeth's brother, William.

This photo was live on the dallasnews.com home page for about five minutes. It might've been longer; it had already been there when I first loaded the site at 9:46 a.m. Central Standard Time. I shift-reloaded several times during those five minutes, to make sure the photo wasn't sitting in my browser's cache.

If dallasnews.com's traffic patterns are anywhere near those of a typical news site, that incorrect caption was published smack-dab in the middle of the site's daily traffic peak -- the start of the business day. It's safe to say tens of thousands of people saw it. Some might have laughed, some might have gasped. Others might have let out a cry of disgust and announced it to their fellow coworkers as "the worst home page photo ever" -- like the guy who sits next to me at work, who alerted all of us here in Lawrence, Kansas.

The dallasnews.com staff corrected the photo after a few minutes. But there is no mention of the mistake on either the home page or corrections page.

When a newspaper publishes an incorrect caption, it makes an effort to publish a correction the next day, in the name of restoring its credibility. When a news Web site publishes an incorrect caption, it shoves its mistake under the rug as soon as it can.


Posted by Steve Yelvington on March 15, 2003, at 4:32 p.m.:

I think you've got it backwards, Adrian ... the caption is correct; the photo is wrong. Looks like somebody typed the wrong filename into an IMG tag. I wonder whether VelocIT, Belo's news content management system, handles image processing and image management. It should. Systems should be designed to minimize human error. And captions should be written to the IPTC header in the image file itself so they don't get separated.

Posted by Adrian on March 15, 2003, at 7:33 p.m.:

If a caption doesn't match a photo, some readers might think the caption is wrong, while others might consider the photo is wrong. I think both page elements are wrong if they're not both right. (It's the *combination* that's wrong, isn't it?)

Posted by kpaul on March 19, 2003, at 2:58 a.m.:

Still no mention on their online corrections page. Also, once they do start making corrections online (or if they do) they should probably reference which 'edition' (online or print) the error occured in.

I have to wonder, too, how often something like that slips through for a minute or two and makes an impression on someone out there...

Posted by Bill Dennis on March 25, 2003, at 5:10 a.m.:

This is much ado about nothing. The phrase "correction" is misleading ... for newspapers. It corrects nothing. It simply explains that a mistake was made, states the correct fact and offers an apology. Newspapers can do nothing else. Once printed and delivered to the news stand, they cannot be unprinted and undelivered. A Web site exists in real time. Newspaper Websites are updated constantly and corrections are made when they are found. Unless a Web site error is especially horrific or libelous, there is no real need to acknowledge the error. After all, newspapers don't correct typographical errors that are harmless.

Posted by Glenn Gerron on April 18, 2003, at 2:10 p.m.:

Quite frankly, I prefer the photo of Elizabeth's brother rather than one of that Mitchell freak. I've seen and heard enough about religeous fanatics who do harm to society in the name of whatever God they claim to represent. Reserve your publicity for the ones who are a credit to the Human Race.............please? Thank You.

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