Posted by Ian
Most national newspapers now have an ombudsman, or readers’ editor, whose job is to address corrections and clarifications on a daily basis. Their findings are published regularly – far more frequently than this monthly round-up. We do, however, receive a daily report of all the feedback you send to the website. This means we can respond quickly to whatever criticisms and amendments you may have; straightaway, if needs be.
Hence all the comments that get sent to us about spelling and grammar aren’t simply ignored until one of us sits down to write this monthly testimony. Quite the contrary.
Mistakes are corrected as soon as is humanly possible. And that’s within minutes, if not seconds, of someone spotting and reporting them.
There were, as ever, plenty of howlers during October. As far as grammar was concerned, one person complained: "You do not ‘divorce from’, you just ‘divorce’. How does one get across the message that you cannot say, ‘Forgot your password (or whatever)?’. It doesn’t make sense. It has to be, ‘Forget or forgotten’."
Point taken. Equally, someone else noted, with more than a little frustration, "Britney Spears was not ‘sat in a hairdressing salon’. The author should have used ‘sitting’. This is becoming a very common error, even among people who should be setting an example to others with their shows or articles." Hmm. Might that not be "people who should set an example to others…"?
Spelling proved to be a particularly popular spectator sport. Lots of you wrote in to point out the ghastly phrase "Three minutes to midnight and your going to sleep" in a health-themed article. "What has MSN to say for itself?" said one. "PLEASE employ people who know how to spell!!!" said another. "It undermines the credibility of the whole piece," added a third.
A similar number spotted another humiliating gaffe: the Queen sitting on the "thrown". "The writer of this article needs to get a grip on the spelling! Throne is what HMQ sits on, and not thrown!!" exclaimed one correspondent. "I can not believe that you have spelt ‘throne’ as ‘thrown’," protested another, and rightly so. "I know spelling is getting worse," chipped in a third, "but surely everyone knows that the Queen sits on the ‘throne’?" Apparently not. Apologies all round.
Elsewhere someone spotted the word "company’s". There’s no excuse for such a primary school mistake. Another wrote to point out: "I’m just writing to ask that Ross Chainey, your health editor, consult his dictionary a little more. It’s not less, it’s fewer! You’re a journalist and good grammar costs nothing! ‘Less vegetables were consumed as people became obsessed with convenience foods.’ FEWER vegetables! Please, help the children! Help yourself! You’re a writer!"
Other factual errors spotted (many thanks!) included our erroneous assertion that the new Eurostar service will start from King’s Cross and not, as is actually the case, St Pancras; the fact that Howard Donald of Take That was Jason Orange and vice versa; the news that the song ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ was not written by Kris Kristofferson but, surprisingly, Johnny Cash; the fact that Elizabeth I’s sister was Mary, Queen of Scots, instead of – correctly – her cousin; and our rather rash claim that yoghurt is not, erm, a dairy product. Once again: sincere apologies to everyone.
We received other feedback on grounds of taste and judgement. "Why the hell have you got the London Eye permanently at the top of your website?" one person complained. "There is part of the UK that exists outside of London." Indeed, and you’d think changing something as simple as the header on a webpage wouldn’t take over a month to do. But, unfortunately, it has! This is something that is proving as much a frustration to us as it is to you.
"Doom, doom and more doom and gloom," was someone’s assessment of our coverage of the month in sport. "What about celebrating the fact that we already have a World Champion: James Toseland from Sheffield, who at the age of 28 has won his second World Superbike Championship." Well, we did try to balance our survey of the UK’s sporting flops with some reasons to be cheerful, but the argument that we shouldn’t report news, regardless of its significance, just because it’s bad isn’t really a practical one for a news-led website such as MSN.
Somebody else exercised a similarly-themed vexation. "The ‘sports’ headlines on your site are misnamed. They should be titled ‘Football’, as that is all they regularly cover. We are in the middle of the Rugby World Cup (hardly a minority sport) and England are in the semi-finals yet it doesn’t even get a mention in the top stories. Please cater for ALL of your readers." We did run a number of articles about the Rugby World Cup, but not in the sport headlines section of the page: sorry for any confusion about this. We appreciate the new layout of the homepage doesn’t always make it obvious that news and sport articles can and do appear outside the ‘news’ and ‘sport’ sections.
A few complaints were voiced about the amount of coverage given to Britney Spears. We did overdo it, and have cut back accordingly.
Finally, that homepage layout. The new design is still irking and irritating you. "How long has it been now?" ran one typical email. "I still can’t stand it. I just keep looking to see if you’ve changed it back again but can’t be bothered to use it." "If it ain’t broke, why fix it," ran another. "You have too many pictures, it’s too slow to download, and there’s too much information even for larger page resulting in poor quality graphics."
I’ve written about this issue elsewhere. We are making changes, one of which happened a couple of days ago: images sizes have shrunk for that trio of "featured" articles in the middle of the page (now entitled ‘Discover more on MSN’). Hopefully this makes the site less cumbersome, both design-wise and in terms of download time. More refinements are on their way.