An editor’s perspective on mistakes (and mochas)
Thursdays are always a little nerve-racking.
On Thursdays the Sierra Sun hits the newsstands. It’s a day of reckoning for our staff. The day we expose ourselves for another weeklong round of public scrutiny (i.e. scorn, ridicule, shame, congratulations, kudos and the occasional uproarious applause), the day of ultimate vulnerability.
A good Thursday for me starts with a mocha from Wild Cherries, followed by a scan and complete reading of the paper from front to back. There are often little errors, but when there are no visible, blatant errors, I breath a sigh of relief, albeit a caffeinated sigh of relief.
Two weeks ago Thursday, we offered the headline “Predicting myself completely nautious” on page C1, over sports reporter Matt Riddle’s column. Of course we meant “Predicting myself completely nauseous.” Three calls and a letter to the editor later, we will never misspell “nauseous” again. I hope.
Talk about a caffeine letdown.
Then, last week, feeling pretty confident about our spelling prowess, I crept into the office, sat down with the paper, one of our most news-packed of the last year, and the first thing I see is “Town takes reigns with mousehole problem.”
Again, we meant “Town takes reins with mousehole problem,” although “Town reigns supreme with mousehole problem” might have applied to what was otherwise a finely crafted story. We were going for the ‘mouse with a bridle and reins’ image. Oviously, for those that noticed the error, it didn’t quite translate.
As I was about to throw my freekin’ mocha across the room, I was interrupted by the phone ringing. A subscriber called with a polite reminder, “This is almost as bad as the (San Francisco) Chronicle.” I had to chuckle, albeit a caffeinated chuckle. It’s always easier when it’s a kind reminder.
At least three sets of eyes scanned that page. I know, I read it at least three times myself, wary of another headline mistake making it in (Headline errors are the ultimate albatross for editors).
Then I talked to a fellow editor at another newspaper. It turns out their paper made the same error a few months ago, with the same word. I chuckled again, although it sounded more like a gasp and wheeze.
And now here we are. It’s Thursday number three, and as you read this I am hopefully sitting at my desk enjoying a soothing caffeine buzz with the knowledge that there are no big-time errors staring back at me. If you notice something wrong, rest assured, there is mocha splattered all over at least one wall in the office. Still, I personally accept letters of scorn, calls of deridement and other forms of professional encouragement, and I take them to heart. Being good at our jobs is important to us, even when we stumble from time to time.
Grammatical, spelling and graphical errors are par for the course for small newspapers. We have a staff of four that is truly pushed to its limits on “production day”, putting the stories and photos together, and writing the headlines. It’s a lot of work compressed into a short amount of time, and I have never seen a small newspaper that does it perfectly.
That said, I would like to think, on balance, we do it better than most, most of the time. And I hope when you run into our mistakes, it doesn’t leave too sour a taste in your mouth.
After all, we work for you, the reader, and we do our best to keep you informed about our community.
We will always try to learn from our mistakes and hope for a future full of successful Thursdays – mochas in hand, not on the wall.
Jim Scripps is the editor of the Sierra Sun.