We try, but news bloopers are inevitable
Accidents will happen, as the saying goes. Despite our best efforts, none of us are infallible. And this is as true when you work at a newspaper as anywhere else. The only difference is those mistakes are made in ink, visible to thousands of readers and many more readers in future generations.
At a job where you produce a product with literally thousands of words every week, typos are bound to happen. The keystrokes of reporters, who are human like the rest of us, are not always perfect. In my case, they are often far from perfect — I have already hit the backspace button at least eight times while writing this paragraph.
Some typos, like forgetting the letter "e" in the word "the," don't really move the needle much. They are not particularly humorous, nor do they suggest something outlandish or inappropriate. But there are other words that I pray I never type incorrectly, words I hope I don't commit to print with a certain letter missing.
Twenty-first century reporters are blessed with word processor programs that feature spell check and grammar check. They help reporters avoid embarrassing errors at even our most braindead of moments. But, like me, these features aren't perfect.
Even spellcheck would fail to save me from the embarrassment of leaving the wrong letter out of "public" or "fences" — technically, the mistyped version of those words are still words that can be found in the English dictionary. They just aren't suitable for a family newspaper.
Other errors go beyond a missed keystroke or two. Sometimes, we simply fail to see the most obvious mistakes. We make errors that produce unintentionally funny and/or inappropriate headlines and sentences. These accidents are common enough that comedian Jay Leno devoted an entire recurring sketch on his late-night TV show to such errors, and people like me laughed our heads off.
In some cases, it's a misspelled word and other times the entirely wrong word is chosen. Case in point, a headline about a baseball pitcher who can throw equally well with both hands prompted this headline: "Amphibious pitcher makes debut." I bet he's a great swimmer.
Some headlines writers, in an attempt to sound profound, come up with story titles that point out something painfully obvious — for example, one newspaper story proclaimed, "Bugs flying around with wings are flying bugs." Amazing insight!
Then, there are those times where editors fail to notice the absurdity of their story titles. Here are a few examples: "Homicide victims rarely talk to police," "Study shows elderly improve vision if they turn on the lights," and "Man in boxers leads police on brief chase."
During my time with this newspaper, I have come across a number of doozies, headlines, sentences and misspellings that I am grateful someone caught during the proofreading process. They are more common than I care to admit, and they are certainly memorable and elicit a chuckle at the office when we reminisce. But, since this is a family newspaper, I can't share any of them with you here. And if you are asking if any of these mistakes, the ones I can't repeat, made it to print, the unfortunate answer is yes.
To err is human, it is said, so I think it's safe to say that our humanity at this newspaper, and in journalism throughout the country, is still intact. And no matter how sophisticated word processor programs become, they won't catch every mistake, especially the funny ones.
So, if you should notice an error in some issue down the road — hopefully a long way down the road — realize that we are trying our best. We strive for perfection. But since we're all too human, accidents will happen. Good thing Leno retired.
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