I recently shared a copy of our 2014 Fall Land & Home with a friend. She was looking for an article and started reading aloud from the contents. I knew immediately that something was wrong. I grabbed the publication from her and saw what I feared: that page was completely wrong, right down to an editor’s note from Jesse Chaney, our former managing editor.
If this were “Jeopardy,” the correct response would be “What will make a Managing Editor sick to her stomach?”
Of course we do not routinely print gobbledygook in place of Tables of Contents. I even have an excuse. It is a long one involving server and software crashes, last minute production, last minute fixes and — this is a cardinal sin in my world — sending pages to the printer without one final proofread.
My friend suggested I let this rather major gaffe lie on the reasoning that “no one reads the contents anyway.”
Our sharp readers know we make mistakes. Every. Single. Week. Sometimes they are simple — a misspelled word here, a punctuation error there — and sometimes they are major enough to cause humiliation matched by, say, walking out of a public restroom with one’s skirt stuck in one’s underwear. (Yeah. I’ve done that, too.)
I reached out to friends and colleagues with the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and, not surprisingly, they had their own stories.
“My paper’s tag line is ‘The Voice of Hamilton County Since 1885’ but the running joke around the office is it needs changing to ‘We Do Our Best Editing After Print,’” wrote Marcus Ashlock, owner/editor of The Syracuse (Kansas) Journal. “I’m amazed at the little things we miss from time to time…. I just laugh it off and make light of it with people saying I do it on purpose to make sure they’re reading the paper.”
Marcus Wilson of townnews.com shared, “My favorite typo was in a North Dakota weekly. The headline was supposed to read: ‘Jane Doe selected high school salutatorian.’ It came out as ‘Jane Doe selected high school slutatorian.’”
Becky Clark, publisher-editor of the Idyllwild (California) Town Crier shared, “My worst one was when our chamber gave a lifetime membership plaque to a famous weatherman in southern California. My front-page caption for the photo read something like, ‘Chamber President hands plague to weatherman.’”
Julian Calvert, now a senior lecturer with the Department of Social Sciences, Media and Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University, recalled, “An ‘In Memoriam’ poem which, rather than ‘To a dear dad,’ read ‘To a dead dad.’”
Jeremy Condliffe of the Congleton Chronicle in England shared an image of an ad with a very bad word that was meant to be replaced at some point before printing. Of course it wasn’t.
“We had to pull every paper from the shops (we sell direct, not via subscription) and reprint all 16,000 copies,” Condliffe wrote. “It was horrible for an hour or so until the laughter started and I realised no-one was cross. I did a column the following week apologising for it, and endured endless banter on social media. Nowadays, I just ask if a mistake means (i) we can be sued or (ii) it will lose us advertising. If the answer to both is no, I stop worrying. Funnily enough, I NEVER read the paper once it’s appeared. I think this is a defense mechanism….”
Condliffe’s was not the only newspaper to have printed a swear word. Patric Hedlund, managing editor of The Mountain Enterprise and The New Mountain Pioneer in Frazier Park, California, shared, “I was at an API seminar once, and the topic of the day/hour was mistakes. Sent around was a photo and caption of the local boy’s basketball team that had just won a big game. It looked something like this: L-R: John Smith, Adam Devolites, Artie Duncan, Ronald Nesmith, Some [Bleep]er, Bobby Nightworth, Peter Gravies, Steve Nissenson, Andy Stanley, etc.”
As former Sangre de Cristo Chronicle publisher Guy Wood was fond of saying, “[Bleep] happens.” He could have added, “So don’t ever substitute [Bleep] for a word. Ever.”
Robin Martin, the current owner of this newspaper, wrote about “the one the Chronicle had on my son Elliott’s story about a marauding bear. It said ‘Rouge Bear’ not ‘Rogue Bear.’ I think ‘Rouge Bear’ would be a good name for a nightclub.”
Laura Button, editor of The Mountaineer Publishing Co. in Alberta, Canada, shared a column another Canadian editor had written following a “Dewey Defeats Truman”-type news story titled “Nurses on Strike.” Seems while the paper was being printed the nurses reached a deal during an all-night bargaining session. “People don’t die from embarrassment,” Barbara Dean-Simmons wrote. “Reporters and editors moved on to the next story and plans for upcoming newspapers.”
Terry Smith, editor of The Athens (Ohio) News writes, “There’s nothing quite like that sinking feeling — not too different from your boyfriend or girlfriend suddenly dropping you — that you get when you arrive at work, and someone eagerly informs you that you’ve messed up something…. When that happens to me, it’s an instantaneous reversal of fortune, and I just want to turn around and go home. But it happens to all of us.”
Yes, it does. And those of us in the business do die. Just a little.