[excerpt, an unofficial transcript of the audio file]
Mr. Raines: I do want to make a point to your readers who are not a part of the journalism community, that the processes of editing on a paper like the Times and other large papers in this country is a multi-layered process; and its designed to find the unintentional or accidental errors in the copy of people who are working on an atmosphere of mutual trust and integrity, and holding a share stake on the strict set of journalistic values that we observe here.
This system is not set up to catch someone who sets out to lie, and to use every means at his or her disposal to put false information into the paper.
Mr. Smith I understand the distinction. What Im curious about is, since he had a great number of corrections published in the paper over his tenure; and since publicly, the prosecutor Bob Horan and others raised questions about his reporting, wasnt there a red flag to you earlier than last week?
Mr. Raines: The corrections were a red flag. I dont want to get into a debate with Mr. Horan whose account there has some parts out of it that might be responded to. But communicating with our readers about our efforts to set the record straight.
We manage corrections closely; as Jack Schaefer (sp?) and other media commentators have pointed out, on a serious newspaper you will have a higher number of corrections because those papers are aggressive about finding out mistakes, tracking them down.
In the case of this young man, he was working under the direct supervision as an intern, under two of our most rigorous training editors. He had over the space of three years, a correction rate of 5%. From my point of view, the acceptable correction rate is zero, but 5% on a paper like this is not an automatic sign of incompetence. Indeed we have a number of reporters who run in that range, over time, who are without a doubt seasoned professionals.
Because we are aggressive about correcting our errors does not mean we are reckless about letting them into the paper.
Ive been back over this young mans personnel record for the entire time he was here. After coming onto the staff in 2001, he went into a period where his error rate shot up to 16% in an eight-month period, . . .
Mr. Smith You might explain how that rate works. Thats 16 errors about of 100 stories?
Mr. Raines I should have said corrections, Terry. 16 corrections. In other words, for every 100 stories, 16 of them had to have something corrected and run in the paper. Sometimes this might be an error or correction that is not due to reporters fault, that is, the police released the incorrect spelling of a name, we come back and correct it; it shows up in that reporters computer tally.
Much has been made of the fact that, since hiring Blair in 1998, the Times has run 50 corrections on his stories. Raines, in fact, has said that the young reporter was admonished in a performance report that he had committed an excessive number of mistakes. A number of publications, including this one, have conducted computer searches to see how Blair's error rate compared to that of his colleagues. The Weekly Standard, for example, compares Blair's record to that of senior Times correspondents R.W. Apple and Adam Clymer over the same period of time. Blair had an error rate of 6.9%, less than half Apple's rate of 14% (46 corrections on 327 stories) and almost a third lower than Clymer's rate of 9% (36 corrections on 400 stories). (Since January 2002, this columnist has had an error rate of about 10%, 12 mistakes in 116 stories and columns.)