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Ooops … Weekender makes wrong results call

Possibly the most famous newspaper headline blunder was made by the Chicago Tribune of November 3 1948, which bannered “Dewey Defeats Truman”.

When the decision to print the paper was made, returns from the US election were coming in very slowly and time was running out before the deadline for the edition. The Tribune staff, based on the early returns, decided Dewey would be the next president. After the newspaper was delivered to the street, more returns came in and showed that Truman would be the ultimate winner and be re-elected as president. The already delivered “error” newspapers were gathered for return by staff members sent out to pick them up from newsstands and homes in the Chicago area. Not all were collected, however, and the photo of the victorious President Truman holding the paper aloft has become iconic.

While clearly nowhere near as disastrous as that, I was amused this morning to find that the Weekender newspaper dated 25 April 2009 has made a similar mistake by “calling” the results of the Western Cape poll prematurely.

DA reports to coalition for control of the Cape” says the headline, and the story goes on to say:
“Intense negotiations between political parties in the Western Cape are on the cards as they try to forge coalitions of sufficient strength to take control of the province. The horse-trading will be necessary because of the Democratic Alliance’s failure to win an outright majority in the province…”

Hmmm. Ooops. With 51,33% of the vote in her handbag, Ms Zille is now to be premier of the Western Cape, regardless of what coalition she manages to forge. Of course she may still decide to enter into an alliance with other parties, but the point is she doesn’t have to. She has won.

I’m surprised the Weekender got it so wrong. As a Cape Town resident I have been watching the results closely for the past 36 hours. And for most of them the party hasn’t dipped below 50% at all and, when it did, it was only for a short while. If they wanted to err on the side of caution they should have printed the opposite story “Majority seems likely for the DA” would have been a more accurate, safer and, as it turned out, correct headline.

Just shows the perils of old media who should, in an age where there is instant news all around us, capitalise on their one biggest strength — offer great insight and detailed analysis. In a rolling news environment when a story is still live when you go to print, don’t take any chances because it gives new media pundits the chance to ridicule you and tweak your nose. Tweak tweak.

  • First published on tonylankester.com
  • Author

    • Tony is a corporate animal but it wasn't always so. He used to work in the media, with a specific interest in technology; travel; music; and getting free stuff. He doesn't consider himself a thought leader, although he does confess to having thoughts. He presents the M&G's weekly podcast.

    14 Comments

    1. Jon Jon 26 April 2009

      Poor Linda Ensor! And such a great big by-line, too. Her credibility is forever shot.

    2. John John 27 April 2009

      I read this article in the weekender and was rather confused. I thought that perhaps I had got it wrong before, perhaps the DA did not win their outright majority!!!

      Well, I think this type of blunder really illustrates the fallacy of the media. Are they not there to REPORT on events that have happened, or, if they are reporting on events currently happening, then do so in a manner which makes that clear? Since when did the news media become fortune tellers (and not very good ones)?

      The old adage comes to mind, “don’t believe everything you read!”

    3. Se7en Se7en 27 April 2009

      They were probably looking at the national rather than provincial results, the fools

    4. Craig Craig 27 April 2009

      It also really grates me when the media tell us with certainty what will happen later rather than report on past events(getting more and more common too), for example:

      “Later today Trevor M will unveil a budget containing…x,y,z”

    5. al al 27 April 2009

      Its unbelievable to think about the impact media mistakes can make – anybody who disagrees need only think about the misqouting of the judge after the shaik trial and think about what an effect that had on south africas whole political landscape.

    6. Hugh Robinson Hugh Robinson 27 April 2009

      Untrained correspondents, lacking integrity are a huge problem in S.A. Half educated, politicised to a point of bias, and willing to put spin {BS} on everything has caused a profound drop in standards.

      It is the only part of the great ANC plan that did not work to perfection. The control of the press using aligned Cadre.

    7. C C 27 April 2009

      The media were either dazzled by Cope or blinded by leftist hate of the DA and its o-so-boring four-decade long battle against racism, ideology and corruption that it misread the facts on the ground.
      Kinda failed the ink-blot test.

    8. Mwenebobo Mwenebobo 27 April 2009

      It’s worse on the international news channels. ‘Breaking News’ interrupts the programme you have been looking forward to the whole week. It’s not usually all that important either. Having broken into a 30 minute programme with a 2 minute clip they then fill in the rest of the programme with one reporter asking another about what will happen, what so and so will do, how will he react etc etc. Pure speculation. Cr-p!

    9. Wineou Wineou 27 April 2009

      You wrote: “DA reports to coalition. . .” when you meant to say “DA resorts. . .”

      So you are also guilty of making an “Ooops”.

      And while I’m quoting things, here’s one you might enjoy: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you need to concentrate on.” – Robert Strauss

    10. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 28 April 2009

      Nice piece, and showing a good deal more understanding than some of the comments.

      Your last two paragraphs are very fair though perhaps it is precisely because resources for insight and analysis are lacking that the news has to be souped up.

    11. John John 28 April 2009

      Hi Paul and Wineou…

      I disagree that Wineou’s comment is blessed with great insight and analysis (no offence)… The oops he refers to is a typo, far cry from printing as fact the outcome of a national election….

    12. Thapelo Thapelo 28 April 2009

      The weekender made two mistakes on the same edition, they claimed the above and secondly they claimed that ANC is going to achieve more than 70%.

    13. Tony Lankester Tony Lankester Post author | 28 April 2009

      An interesting footnote to the story is this: Even though the story was clearly wrong, The Weekender continues to perpetuate it by leaving the erroneous story up on their website (http://www.businessday.co.za/weekender/article.aspx?ID=BD4A987560) Of course this gives rise to another debate – is a newspaper’s website a record of what was printed, and therefore should remain warts (mistakes) and all; or should it, as a live channel that is easily updated and fixed, be corrected? I don’t know the answer to that. I know of instances where newspapers, facing legal action for something they had printed, removed the offending piece from their site (the recent Guardian column on Jacob Zuma is an example of this, if I’m not mistaken). Clearly The Weekender example is not a legally actionable error, but it does damage the newspaper’s credibility.
      I think they should have taken it down or at least printed an apology at the start of the article if they wanted it to remain as a permanent digital record of the print edition.

    14. Wineou Wineou 1 May 2009

      Hi John

      I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. I’m pretty sure Paul was commenting on Tony’s “piece” and not my comment.

      The only reason I bothered to mention Tony’s error was that he was highlighting someone else’s mistake, and it is not a good idea to make an error of your own when pointing out another’s error. Especially when in doing so you misquote the very headline in question.

      From my limited acquaintance with his writings I gather that Tony normally writes impeccable prose, and I thought his finding and reproducing the 1948 Chicago Tribune mistake was excellent work. I was merely trying to poke a little gentle fun at his slip-up.

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