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Fifty years of fighting typos

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/14/2011 12:00:00 AM | JENNIFER HATTAM

Though typos vex editors at every publication, the staff of papers like the Daily News faces challenges unfamiliar to the New York Times or the Turkish-language press.

Ambitious planning schemes, trouble in Iraq, student protests and spats between political figures – many of the topics in the very first edition of the Daily News could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

Half a century after that debut newspaper, there is another thing that has not changed: The battle against typos and other mistakes has yet to be won.

In reinterpreting the March 15, 1961, edition’s front page for today’s paper, a copy editor’s eyes go straight to the missing punctuation, the misspellings and the stray lines of accidentally repeated text. A closer look at the original text reveals other types of problems: How could famed Turkish sailor and navigator Piri Reis have made a map in 1453, when all historical accounts suggest he was born sometime between 1465 and 1470?

Spotting what got by previous editors is both comforting and disheartening. The first somewhat smug thought – “See, everyone makes mistakes” – is quickly followed by a less cheering feeling. No matter how hard we strive to bring readers a clean, comprehensive and comprehensible paper each day, it seems everyone is going to, well, make mistakes.

Though typos vex editors at every publication, the staff of papers like the Daily News faces challenges unfamiliar to their colleagues at the New York Times, or in the Turkish-language press. As journalists working to present Turkish news to an English-speaking audience, we must not only translate from one language to another, but also interpret bodies of knowledge and worldviews, filling in the gaps between what every Turkish newspaper reader knows and what might totally befuddle their American or British counterparts.

To the modern non-Turkish reader, the inaugural Daily News is full of mysteries. What was Yassıada and where (and why?) did “the university incidents” being described there by journalists and other witnesses occur? Why would members of the country’s oldest political party have had reason to claim they were being banned from traveling in Turkey? What the heck was the Turkish House of Representatives? And why, oh why, did anyone at the paper think it was important to report that the minister of health and social welfare had left Istanbul – “by car” no less – for a trip to the northwestern province of Edirne?

The challenge of providing context for the curious, but previously uninformed reader remains an ongoing one, of course, as today’s staff reports on tangled webs of coup-plot investigations, competing “Kurdish initiatives” and complicated parliamentary legislation and constitutional referendums. The most important role of our native-English-speaking editors is often to ask the “dumb question”: Wait, which legal case are we talking about here – Ergenekon or Sledgehammer? Why are the prospects of a second-tier political party important in the upcoming general election? What exactly happens to that draft bill after the parliamentary committee passes it?

Though the occasional perplexing article still slips through, we believe we’ve made great strides on that count in our reporting since 1961, when we first set out to “present Turkey to the world.” And when all else fails, editors now at least have Google to help fill in the holes.

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