By: Steve Friess

After Bad Day, Publisher Credits Customer Accounts

from this week’s Editor & Publisher magazine. To subscribe, click

by Steve Friess

If Firestone hands out free tires to replace faulty ones and department
stores allow refunds for damaged goods, one Nevada newspaper publisher
believes subscribers should get their money back, too, at least on days
when particularly egregious mistakes are made.

In an extraordinary front-page apology Aug. 10, Nevada Appeal
Editor/Publisher Jeff Ackerman announced that each home-delivery
customer would be credited for one day on his or her subscription to
make amends for publishing an incorrect mug shot the day before.

An Aug. 9 story about an endorsement of a mayoral candidate featured a
photo of the candidate’s brother, a local judge. It was at least the
third time the Carson City daily had made that same mistake, Ackerman

‘You probably want to know why you should pay for a newspaper that
continues to screw up names, dates, places, and fails to provide the
kind of quality you deserve and expect,’ wrote Ackerman, whose 12-inch
mea culpa ran at the bottom-right corner of Page One. ‘Fair enough.’

The decision at the 15,983-circulation paper, owned by Swift Newspapers
Inc., cost about $2,750, or 25 cents for each of 11,000 home-delivery
subscribers, Ackerman said.

That’s a remarkable price to pay for something of a run-of-the-mill
mistake in the newspaper business, said Rich Oppel, editor of the Austin
(Texas) American-Statesman and president of the American Society of
Newspaper Editors.

‘I’ve never heard of that before,’ Oppel said. ‘It does seem extraordinary.
If I had to give money back for every newspaper I sold that contained an
error, I’d be out a good pile of money. But I respect [Ackerman] for
bringing that degree of importance to accuracy.’

For his part, Ackerman said his personal frustration with a rash of
errors spurred the apology and reimbursement. Dozens of readers called
to complain, including both of the brothers, although Ackerman insisted
the move wasn’t in response to any legal threats.

‘I’d come to a point where I wondered why newspapers are any different
than any other business,’ said Ackerman, who nonetheless said readers
won’t be getting a refund for every error. ‘If I eat in a restaurant
and the food is lousy, does the cook say, ‘Well, you should’ve come
here yesterday, it was much better then,’ or ‘Come in tomorrow, it’ll
be better’? I had to do something. I was not proud of our product that

Readers called to laud the rebate as an unusual effort to acknowledge
mistakes, but Ackerman has misgivings about being so publicly critical
of his staff’s work. He blamed much of his paper’s error problems on a
robust job market that forces small papers to hire inexperienced
journalists and on pagination, which has made busy editors into untrained
page designers.

‘This was just a reaction,’ Ackerman said. ‘Was it the correct one? I
don’t know. The readers thought it was noble. I didn’t mean to put our
newsroom in a bad light, because they’re trying their best to put out a
good newspaper and they do put out a good newspaper. I just thought,
‘Geez, again?”


Steve Friess is a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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