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READERS' REPRESENTATIVE: Errors undercut newspaper's efforts to keep credibility

By MIRIAM PEPPER - Columnist
Date: 08/07/99 22:00 - Originally Published at www.kcstar.com

Dozens of times a day, editors hunt for photographs to illustrate stories.

A photo draws attention to a story and adds zip to the layout. Too much gray type, goes the thinking, creates dull pages.

Deadlines mean some of these photo searches become rushed efforts. Rather than assign a photographer to take a new photo, editors sometimes head to The Star library to find a previously used photo. Occasionally, these searches result in errors. If an editor fails to read an identification on a photo, it's big trouble. It means the wrong person appears and a correction must run to straighten out the confusion.

Some bloopers are especially appalling. The July 30 Preview section included such a gaffe on Page 26. To illustrate a calendar item about National Clown Week, an editor grabbed a clown photo out of a file and didn't check the name.

The clown was John Wayne Gacy, a Chicago serial killer of children. To say that readers knew better is an understatement.

"Clowns around the KC area, I'm sure, do not want to be associated with this man, this animal, the killer of children," wrote a reader in a fax.

"What a hoot," said a caller. "I told all the neighbors. I can't believe you did this."

Believe it. Even worse, the cutline read: "It's a rule. You MUST celebrate Clown Week, starting Sunday at the City Market."

Scott Wagner, City Market marketing and promotions director, fielded one complaint. The caller wondered if the market provided the wrong photo. It didn't. The mistake lies strictly within The Star.

Several readers sent e-mails saying The Star had a "sick agenda," assuming editors purposely ran the killer's photo on the "family fun" page.

It wasn't intentional. It was human error. A special editor's note ran the next day on Page 2 to correct the matter. It ended by stating: "The Star regrets the inappropriate use of this photo."

And how.

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