Up front: February 2012

All that counts

In January, a story in The Charlotte Observer sports section reported that Baron Davis, a guard for the New York Knicks, suffered from an unusual ailment. The malady, as printed in the paper, resembled “herniated disk” but read “herniated [important male appendage].” Though it might have made a few prudes blush (and a few guys wince), it was obvious to most people that the paper had made a glaring mistake.

The next day, the executive sports editor wrote a lengthy explanation of how the gaffe occurred. The reporter had written “herniated disc,” which slipped past the first editor who read it. That’s not surprising since it’s how that sliver of spine is commonly spelled. But the Observer, like most newspapers, hews to Associated Press style, which specifies the other spelling for medical terms. A sharp-eyed second editor spotted the mistake, inserted a “k” into the word and deleted a letter. Unfortunately, the wrong consonant was removed. The result was hilarious and embarrassing and necessitated a correction, which was supplied.

The point is, that despite our best efforts, journalists sometimes screw up. When that happens, we have an obligation to right the wrong. This brings us to “The Bull Is Back” feature we published in the January edition of Business North Carolina. Every year, we ask a panel of professional stock pickers to select three stocks from our Top 75 Public Companies ranking. Twelve months later, we tally up how these shares performed and average their return. Before the latest competition, we told participants the results would include dividends and splits, but when calculating the results, I failed to account for either.

Therefore, the returns that we published were incorrect. But our mistake wasn’t a funny faux pas such as the Observer’s. As Frank Jolley, one of our panelists, explained in an email, “Many people comment about the contest. [The story about it] is read by many and needs to be correct. I certainly do not want incorrect data floating around with regards to my ability to manage portfolios.”

When I accounted for total return, there wasn’t much change in the final standings: First and second places remained the same, but Jolley moved up from fourth to third. It did, however, change the average returns, most of them for the better:

I made a mistake, and though Pope wrote that “to err is human,” I still find that very diskoncerting.