Editing Disaster Alert:WaPo Botches Pap Smear Story

Reporters and editors often insert TK’s in stories to remind themselves of facts that must be filled in before completion.

This is normal.

But late Monday, something went awry in WaPo‘s online editing system (insert joke about that new web redesign here) and an editor inserted all caps critiques in a health story on the gravity of getting a pap smear. And they ran it. The story is by Laura Ungar, a medical writer with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

Excerpt: “I didn’t want to lose my womb. I didn’t want to lose my fertility. But I was tossed into this world of cancer,” said Felder, now 35. “It changes you in such a profound way. You have to rebuild your whole life.” THE QUOTE YOU NEED HERE, GIVEN THE REST OF THE PIECE, IS ABOUT HOW SHE COULDN’T AFFORD THE HEALTH INSURANCE. DID SHE NOT HAVE A PAP SMEAR OR DID SHE ALSO STOP SEEING HER OB/GYN? IF IT’S THE FORMER SHE SHOULD SAY HOW SHE WENT TO THE OB/GYN BUT DECLINEE THE PAP SMEAR BECAUSE IT WAS TOO MUCH AND SHE FIGURED SHE WAS YOUNG SHE’D BE FINE.

These sort of remarks go on and on for graphs and graphs. One positive: the editor is thorough. But an obvious negative: As of midnight last night, the story was still a train wreck. As of this morning, too. Read here.

Congratulations WaPo! You win our Disaster of the Week award.

In case this eventually all gets fixed, see all the gory details…

UPDATE: WaPo publishes this update today in the space of the original pap smear story. The time stamp is still from yesterday’s piece: “Monday, March 14, 2011; 4:58 PM An incomplete story was published to this webpage. We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience. Please find our latest coverage at washingtonpost.com.”

Tamika Felder figured she was young and healthy and could skip getting Pap smears for a few years when her job didn’t offer health insurance.

She was wrong.

In 2001, at 25 years old, the television producer from Upper Marlboro, Md. was diagnosed with cervical cancer and needed a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She was left unable to bear children.

“I didn’t want to lose my womb. I didn’t want to lose my fertility. But I was tossed into this world of cancer,” said Felder, now 35. “It changes you in such a profound way. You have to rebuild your whole life.” THE QUOTE YOU NEED HERE, GIVEN THE REST OF THE PIECE, IS ABOUT HOW SHE COULDN’T AFFORD THE HEALTH INSURANCE. DID SHE NOT HAVE A PAP SMEAR OR DID SHE ALSO STOP SEEING HER OB/GYN? IF IT’S THE FORMER SHE SHOULD SAY HOW SHE WENT TO THE OB/GYN BUT DECLINEE THE PAP SMEAR BECAUSE IT WAS TOO MUCH AND SHE FIGURED SHE WAS YOUNG SHE’D BE FINE.

THEN THE NEXT GRAF COULD BE THE QUOTE YOU USE ABOVE.

THIS GRAF SENTENCE NEEDS TO BE TWEAKED. Each year, about 12,000 U.S. women get cervical cancer and (ANOTHER? OR IS THIS PART OF THE 12,000) 4,000 die. YET DOCTORS VIEW CERVICAL CANCER AS A disease THAT WITH PROPER SCREENING can easily be prevented and treated. Pre-cancerous lesions and early cancer are easily detected through screening. Lesions can be removed in a minimally-invasive procedure before they turn into cancer. And there’s a vaccine against the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cervical cancer cases.

HOW ABOUT: BUT FELDER’S CASE IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF WHY THIS MOSTLY CURABLE DISEASE IS STILL A THREAT/IS STILL KILING PEOPLE, DOCTORS SAY. TOO OFTEN WOMEN WHO DON’T HAVE HEALTH CARE COVERAGE OR THOSE WHO,HAVE not HEARD ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF REGULAR SCREENINGS–DESPITE YEARS OF PUBLIC CAMPAIGNS–DISCOVER THE PROBLEM WHEN THE DISEASE HAS ALREADY PROGRESSED TOO FAR .