Q: Help! Our email newsletter went out with a mistake in it. Should we fix it and resend it? Or keep quiet and hope nobody notices? How do we handle mistakes like this?

A:  Resending an entire email newsletter will test your readers’ patience, so take a deep breath and get ready for some triage. If it was a spelling, grammar or punctuation mistake, let it go. Sure, you’ll be a little red-faced, but no lasting damage was done.
Consider sending a correction, or one entire corrected item, if the error changed the meaning of what was said, could cause people to act in error or could cause harm. For example:

  • How The Simpsons handle mistakes: cleverlyYou spelled someone’s name wrong.  Contact the person, apologize and write a short correction in the next e-newsletter. The Simpsons recently used Bart’s weekly after-school punishment to cleverly make amends for a misspelling in the previous episode’s credits.
  • A link is broken or wrong. This is a toss up. If the whole point of the newsletter is to announce that you were featured in an article, but the link is broken, then send a follow-up email with the correct link. Let it go if the link isn’t essential or could be easily obtained by an interested reader.
  • Your mistake is misleading, offensive or harmful. Examples: You got an event date, time or location wrong; you referred to a living person as dead; you said “convicted” when you meant to say “cleared of all charges;” or you accidentally condone sexual assault as the Iowa State Daily did. Send a follow-up email immediately pointing out the mistake, apologizing and giving the correct information.

Here is the ultimate example of a seemingly small mistake – replacing one letter for another – being a very big deal. The death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of Navy SEALs was big news. It was made even more dramatic by President Obama’s surprise address to the nation late on May 1.

If you were NPR, how would you handle mistakes like this?Broadcast and print journalists were (understandably) falling all over themselves to get the news out, but in doing so they kept mixing up the names Osama and Obama.

A hurried slip of the tongue is perhaps to be expected, like Geraldo Rivera’s quickly caught gaffe. But once your words are in print, they are held to a higher standard – or should be. Here is a smattering of the most embarrassing mistakes (thanks to Mashable). Norah O’Donnell of MSNBC had the misfortune of Tweeting “Obama shot and killed.” NPR’s Peter Sagal made the gaffe after having once hosted a segment on the Osama/Obama word similarity.

So no matter what the circumstances, here’s how to prevent and handle mistakes:

  • DON’T skimp on the editing when you’re in a hurry. That’s precisely when you’re likely to make a mistake.
  • DO learn from others’ errors. The names Osama and Obama will be linked forevermore in many people’s heads. From now on, either name should send up a little red “double-check me” flag in your mind.
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