The worst mistakes ever

Co-worker Kari Lucin sent me an e-mail Wednesday morning with the title, "Journalistic Screw-ups." Now, if there’s one thing we journalists like to see, it’s the mistakes of other journalists.

You would think that working in this profession, we would take pity on writers and editors who make dumb errors in print, but in reality most of us giggle and say a word of thanks that it wasn’t our name on the byline. Well, there are some exceptions, such as if the error was made by a co-worker, and if the mistake is in the paper we work for.

The work we, as reporters, do every day is critiqued by thousands of people who read our newspaper. A typo makes me look incompetent, an incorrect name in a story means I lose credibility with the reader, and making an error in the facts severs the trust readers have in their newspapers.

Reporters are under this invisible pressure to do everything right – to do a perfect job. After enough time and experience the pressure seems to subside. I think that’s just because we become more confident – at least until the next time we have to write a correction.

We make mistakes – we’re human. We get angry, we get embarrassed, we mumble under our breath because nobody caught the error, we write the correction and we move on. We have to.

After I read the link to the journalist’s screw-ups, I told Kari I was going to write a blog about my own screw-ups as a newspaper reporter.

Her response: "You’re brave!"

Naturally, I started to rethink my idea. After all, who wants to admit a huge faux pas – especially one that happened about a dozen years ago, in a different community, at a small town newspaper?

It’s kind of strange, but I remember my reaction to the error more than the actual error itself. I had been in my job at a bi-weekly newspaper for about a year when I wrote a story about a local church receiving a financial gift from some millionaire that wrote a syndicated financial column.

My error: I wrote that it was the local Methodist church, when it should have been the local Presbyterian church (or vice-versa … I can’t remember!) Anyway, had the proofreader not taken that press day off – and had the publisher taken the time to read the story – the mistake would have been caught and changed before the paper went to press. The proofreader went to the one church, and the publisher went to the other.

Of course, had the mistake been caught, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

Needless to say, I was called into the publisher’s office with my editor the day the paper came out. I was certain I was going to be fired as I sat in that uncomfortable chair across from the boss with tears streaming down my face. (The words of my newswriting instructor at South Dakota State University kept repeating in my head … "Misspelling a person’s name is grounds for immediate firing!") I figured the same held true for misidentifying a church.

It was the biggest mistake I’d ever made in my journalism career, and I thought it was the last I’d ever make. Since I’m still working in the newspaper business, you now realize I was given a second chance.

Oh, I’ve made other mistakes in my 16 years in the newspaper business, but I don’t think any are as memorable as that first one. And certainly, none of them are as funny as the screw-ups made by Joe Posnanski.

2 thoughts on “The worst mistakes ever

  1. The misidentified church thing can happen easily. I believe grammatical errors are less acceptable. One of your co-workers used the word ‘are’ instead of ‘our’ today. Thankfully, it wasn’t in the print edition.

  2. Howard, You are being way too kind about the church thing. It certainly taught me a good lesson in journalism – a story is nothing without the correct facts!
    Thanks for pointing out the error in another blog. It has been corrected.

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