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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Stephens professor wins first Show Me the Errors contest

By Maggie Walter
November 1, 2010 | 5:11 p.m. CDT

Show Me the Errors has a winner for its October contest. It’s Jim Terry, an associate professor in the liberal arts department at Stephens College, where he teaches art history.

With 89 submissions, Terry took a commanding lead over the other participants. The contest, which was started Oct. 1, offers readers of ColumbiaMissourian.com an opportunity to join our copy editors in finding and reporting online errors. Readers who submit a correction earn a point for every submission.

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The monthly winner receives a Missourian mug and a hardcover copy of Roy Peter Clark’s latest book, “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English.” And, of course, the winner claims bragging rights and our thanks.

Terry, when contacted about his winning efforts, was modest in his response. He said his editing abilities come from many years of grading student papers. He applauded the contest's efforts to improve copy editing skills.

For October, the Show Me the Errors records show 252 submissions and 92 participants. Those numbers were skewed by readers who mistakenly posted story comments into the contest box at the bottom of each story. When that happened, we sent the commenter an e-mail reminder that the comments box is now the second one at the end of the story, and the commenter was asked to repost the comment. Unfortunately, the magic of computers doesn’t extend to analyzing content to separate a correction from a comment submission. As a rough estimate, there were about 50 misplaced posts.

Missing words and missing spaces between words were frequently cited as errors. There’s no excuse for either mistake, and copy editors have been instructed to give each article yet another read before posting to the website.

Subject-verb disagreements, dangling modifiers, misused words and jumbled sentence structures topped the grammar abuses. We hated every one of those errors and vowed to sharpen our editing and attention to eliminate such mistakes.

Most troubling of the corrections submitted by readers, however, were those pointing out factual errors such as incorrect identifications and affiliations, misspelled names, incorrect scores for sporting events and misrepresentation of facts.

Every submission stirred a level of concern and was given consideration for correction.

And that’s the best part about Show Me the Errors. The content of our website is stronger and better because of our contest participants. The reporters and copy editors here are more aware of the need for sharper fact-checking and editing. 

It’s a win-win situation that gives me hope that, as I wrote in the Dear Reader column introducing the contest, maybe some month there won’t be a winner in the Show Me the Errors contest. But for now, the November contest is open.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at the Missourian.