When a Vietnamese newspaper mistook Prime Minister John Key for Czech politician Milan Stech on its front page last week, the New Zealand media seized on the gaffe. Mr Key saw the funny side and The Vietnam News corrected its error online.
As neither Mr Key nor Mr Stech are household names in Hanoi, it's easy to see how the mistake was made. But last weekend, two big New Zealand media outfits minced the names of politicians much closer to home.
Tonga’s prime minister ʻAkilisi Pohiva is a veteran democracy campaigner and the country's longest-serving MP. But in a New Zealand Herald website story about the first memorial service for Jonah Lomu, published last Saturday, he appeared as "Yokels Beehive". The error wasn't corrected for about three hours.
The same odd name lingered even longer in a similar story on rival news site Stuff, owned by Fairfax Media. This article, however, also mangled the name of church and community leader Salote Heleta Lilo, and last time Mediawatch checked, our Minister of Pacific Island Affairs was Sam Lotu-Iiga - not 'Sam Lout-Giga'
'Spell check gone wild'
How did it happen?
"Fair cop guv I'm afraid," Fairfax Media's digital editor Mark Stevens told Mediawatch. "This was simply a case of 'spell check gone wild'. It was disappointing but, thankfully, was spotted and corrected," he added.
The New Zealand Herald didn't respond to Mediawatch.
The Yokels Beehive gaffe wasn't the title's only mistake that Saturday: it wasn't a good day for proofreading. A thoughtful editorial on Auckland housing left readers guessing just how fast rents were rising in the city:
The Herald has rightly trumpeted the data journalism it has has recently invested in, so it was a shame this sub-editing error inadvertently gave readers data-less journalism.
'I' before 'e' except after 'c'
While auto-correct tripped up the Herald and Stuff last weekend, it might have helped us here at RNZ last week.
On Tuesday, the most popular on-demand audio on our website was this:
Putting 'i' before 'e' in 'received' might not have been so bad if the story wasn't about students struggling with dyslexia.
But it's not only RNZ that has slipped up on spelling in an education story recently. In an online story on school zoning The Sunday Star-Times got ‘perceive’ correct but 'achieve' wrong:
Interestingly, both words were spelt correctly in the print edition of the paper.
While you would have needed an eagle eye to pick out those mistakes, a Mediawatch listener spotted a similar one that was all too obvious in Fairfax's Your Weekend magazine recently. It was right there in the headline above a rave review of a Marlon Brando documentary:
But that wasn’t the publication's worst headline error. In the arts section of the same edition, two pages before the Brando gaffe, this clanger sat above a review of an Ian Rankin crime novel:
Web of errors
Punctuation and grammar can also go haywire when content is rushed on to the web. Last Monday, The Paul Henry Show had plenty of errant capitals and apostrophes:
While the spelling wasn't so good on this one:
No one's perfect
Picking up mistakes can backfire though. RNZ News recently pointed the finger in an online story about an expensive Auckland Council publication whose front page spelled 'fuelling' with one 'l':
RNZ said that was the American spelling and Auckland Council conceded it was wrong. But RNZ's story also said:
It turns out no-one is beyond reproach: Radio New Zealand found it once spelled 'fuelling' incorrectly on its website.
Oops. And Mediawatch has found RNZ News used 'fueling' online again this month:
To make matters worse, while 'kernel' is spelt correctly in the introduction, it was wrong in the headline.
From time to time Mediawatch also gets pulled up for imprecise use of language. This week a listener wrote in to say:
You you called 'RNZ' an "acronym" not once, not twice but three Sundays in a row. But it isn’t. USA, BBC, ABC, RNZ, USSR: these are all abbreviations. If you pronounce the letters as we know them from the alphabet then it is an abbreviation. If it is a new word, it is an acronym. For example: DOC, NATO, NIMBY, ASEAN, RADAR, CERA. Voila!
Voila and touché. We stand corrected, and chastised.