Archive for Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mistakes happen

May 6, 2010

It is a well-known fact there is a life cycle for everything. No matter whether it is a huge redwood tree, a giant turtle, a small insect or a human being, we all succumb. It is an old saying that nothing lives forever, which isn’t exactly true. In fact, as far as I know, a typographical error in a newspaper or other printed material is immortal.

A typo can remain dormant for years and hide among the musty files of a newspaper. Yet, it is still there and can come back at any moment.

Let me quickly point out that errors are inevitable. If you have been in the newspaper business for more than five minutes, you probably have made a mistake. I have often said that being in journalism is similar to playing shortstop for the Kansas City Royals. You can write dozens of stories and baseball players can make hundreds of plays with complete accuracy. But sooner or later, there will be an error. Newspaper writers and ballplayers always make their mistakes in front of hundreds of people and there is no hiding from it.

My point came home a couple of weeks ago. I write the “Remember When” column and recently, I found an item on the front page of an April 1960, edition reporting Paul Wiard was the new Scoutmaster of Troop 42. Unfortunately, a half-century ago, a mistake was born. Paul Wiard was the new Scoutmaster of Troop 41, not 42.

My friend Merle Schneck called me to ask if there was a mistake. I checked the old issues, and, yes, the ghost of typos past appeared to haunt me.

A few years back, I mentioned to a person here in town they were going to be included in the 25-years ago column and I quickly learned that the earlier story had the wrong name. That, of course, prevented a mistake. Another time when I was in Mulvane, I used a paragraph in the 50-years ago column and got a letter from the former publisher who pointed out that this was a mistake. He said that he had fouled up then and now, 50 years later, the ghost of mistakes past was haunting him.

During the 40 plus years I was in the newspaper business, I had my share of mistakes. Almost all of them were from carelessness.

Personally, I never had a huge factual error, although an employee once made one while I was managing the newspapers in Carrollton, Mo. He was having a tough time reaching a high school basketball coach. Since the coach he was looking for had a great team, and the opposing school had a long losing streak, he decided just to list a winner in his story and not use a score. On most occasions that might have worked, but in this case there was a big upset and we had plenty of calls from parents and fans.

Probably the most famous mistake we had in Bonner Springs came in the early 1980s when a reporter had taken a photo of the winner of a spelling bee. In the caption she listed the word the winner had spelled to take the contest. Yep, she misspelled the word, and it was a mistake mentioned in a column in the “New Yorker” magazine. On the bright side, how many times has Bonner Springs made the pages of the “New Yorker?”

I always thought that electronic journalists had it made. They could have a mistake, and it would slip right on by. In the print media, you have far more challenges. You have to get the facts right, spell everything correctly and hope that what you’ve written can be understood. Leave out a letter or have one in the wrong place, you can change the entire meaning of a story.

In Mulvane, I covered a school board meeting and the superintendent was directed to write the state and protest a policy. I had an “oops” and when it came out in the newspaper, I had an “e” not a “y,” and the story said he was protesting the “police.” Just one wrong letter, and there was a problem.

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