The wrong picture is worth a thousand words

We saw some spectacular editorial mistakes leading up to the 2015 federal election in Canada. In addition to the post-debate tweet about the “Prime Minster“, we also saw several spectacular photo failures. For example, there was the story about the mistaken salmon identity, followed by the environmental protection tweet that featured the state of Oregon in a tribute to the Canadian wilderness.


When people start playing the blame game, it’s easy to look at the quality control chain to see what went wrong. Depending on the publication, there are copy editors, managing editors, and proofreaders, who each have a clear role to play in catching editorial errors. But whose job is it to verify the photos?

Editors Canada has established professional standards for four types of editing: structural/substantive editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Stylistic editing includes “creating or recasting tables or figures”. Copy editing includes “writing or editing captions”. But all this work is focused on the business of words.

Editors Canada also defines various editorial skills. Developmental or project editing can include “design supervision”. Picture research includes “locating suitable photos and/or artwork”, which comes closest to what we’re talking about here. But neither of these are part of the major editing disciplines. So where does that leave us?

First and foremost, responsibility for any piece rests with the author—the person who created the content. But we still can’t help asking ourselves, “Shouldn’t someone else have noticed?” So who should that have been? The answer is surprisingly unsatisfying.

It depends.

Every job, every project, and every task is different. As a freelance writer and editor, I clarify my client’s expectations up front. For in-house employees, communication with your boss is key. When responsibilities aren’t clearly defined, it’s easier for mistakes to slip through.

In any work environment, it’s important for everyone in the quality control chain, no matter how long or short the chain is, to stay sharp. When a mistake goes unnoticed until it’s in print or on screen, does it really matter how many people could have fixed it? The fact is, no one did, and that’s embarrassing for everyone.