I’m about to let you in on a little secret. It’s quite the bombshell, so please have a seat. Ready?
Journalists are human.
I know. It came as quite a shock to me the first time I realized it; just like when I learned that teachers were people and parents are fallible. Journalists are human and they make mistakes.
We don’t mean to err, and we strive for perfection. It’s our goal to make sure that readers receive factual, up-to-date, in-depth reporting on whatever stories we pursue. My goal for the Enterprise newsroom is one that the reader can trust as accurate.
It doesn’t always happen.
In my early journalism days as a copy editor, the team I was a part of worked diligently to catch every typo, every inconsistency, every glitch that came across our desks. Reporters, for all their hard work, can be notorious for grammatical mistakes. We pored over every line, character by character. There were, on average, no less than six pairs of eyes on each page.
We still missed stuff.
It could be anything from the glaringly obvious to the subtle. There were numerous times where “the the” would trip up the eyes. We had placeholder text to keep style formats in place, so more than once “Cutline goes here. Cutline goes here. Cutline goes here,” would appear under a photo (cutlines are what we call photo captions). One famous instance was the headline that printed, reading, “XXX headline goes here XXX.” Another time it was just X’s all the way across.
Diligent as we were, we would miss these things, only to notice them the next day with fresh eyes. Or a reader would point it out. Or (the worst) the editor would give us his disapproving dad look and remind us to be meticulous.
Nowadays, I’m the editor. Our newsroom is comprised of one copy editor, who is one of the most meticulous and detailed copy editors I’ve ever met – and I have no doubt he’s found several grammatical mistakes in this column. We work together to proof the paper as best we can.
Still, mistakes escape our notice.
Never has this been truer than it was in the Oct. 31 issue of the Enterprise since I’ve worked here. One headline touted a veteran of World War II (he didn’t begin military service until a couple decades after that war ended). Another headline omitted a word. The reminder for Daylight Saving Time advised turning clocks back at 2 p.m. rather than a.m. I’m sure there were probably a few more.
In all fairness, we were under an extreme time crunch. Not only were we reporting on the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power outages, we were afflicted by them as well. One was said to be looming at 4 p.m. on Oct. 29, a Tuesday. Our deadline for printing the paper is every Wednesday. Should the latest outage occur, that would cut our power for potentially 24 hours, making it impossible to get the files sent off.
So, we decided to work hard to get the paper sent off to the printer a day early. It was hectic, but we did it.
The power wasn’t shut off. Insert eye rolling here.
Thanks to our eagle-eyed readers, the mistakes I mentioned above were caught. However, it’s not the readers we want catching mistakes. As much as it pains me to see our screw-ups in print, I have to keep a light heart about it. After all, it’s not the first time, and it’s probably not going to be the last.
Not only am I a journalist, I’m human, too.