Editor's Column - 4-H girls win prizes for fat calves

"In case you haven't noticed, newspapers goof up sometimes. I've been working as editor of the News-Times for about six weeks now. I'm proud to say we haven't made any huge mistakes during that time span. A few typos. A couple mistakes by the editor. A little glitch in our legal ads recently. My philosophy is that we'll do everything we can here in the News-Times newsroom to stop mistakes before they get into print. We're trying to do more proofing and put out a clean newspaper. I believe attention to detail matters, because it tells our readers we care about producing an accurate and professional newspaper. The written word is our brick and mortar, after all, and sloppy workmanship is not the way to build customer satisfaction. With that said, I'm making an advance mea culpa while I'm still on my six-week honeymoon: We're going to screw up eventually. It's like the sun rising in the east, or winter winds on Whidbey, or death and taxes. Newspapers produce so many pages of print that typographical errors are part of our stock and trade. We try to minimize those mistakes. We hire people to flag them down. We take pride in our work, honestly. But things slip through. You may have heard about the recent screw-up for the ages at the Seattle Times. One of that newspaper's biggest advertisers is Alaska Airlines. A Deaths and funerals headline mysteriously appeared on an Alaska Airlines advertisement in the Seattle Times last month. To most readers it seemed like some kind of morbid joke, given the deaths of 88 people aboard Alaska Flight 261 last winter. Somebody at the Seattle Times must have placed the headline on the ad. Maybe they never thought it would see print. Times Executive Editor Michael R. Francher said he thought the same thing. To my mind there was simply no way that headline accidentally fell onto that advertisement on that day, Francher writes in an apologetic June 18 column. The odds against it were astronomical. Francher goes on to say that the Times couldn't determine whether the ad fiasco was an accident, a prank or a malicious act. He implies that it was probably a mistake. While I personally am skeptical of that explanation, I'm familiar enough with the newspaper business to not roast Mr. Francher too hotly. I could be next. Headline mistakes are the most embarrassing form of mess-up in my business. There's nothing that makes an editor cringe more than a typo in bold 60 point print. A copy editor friend of mine, for example, once proudly worked his first front-page layout shift at the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello. He proceeded to leave the r out of the word T-shirt in a front-page headline. The mistake was delivered to all 20,000 customers of that publication. More often, in the rush toward deadline, an editor will write a headline that carries an unintended meaning. A sports team that usually plays on artificial turf Wins on grass, for example. Jay Leno builds an entire comedy routine around these kind of mistakes. Here's a few of these classic newspaper double entendres which made their way into print, and have been gathered on the Internet: Panda mating fails, veterinarian takes over Queen Mary having bottom scraped Prosecutor releases probe into undersheriff 4-H girls win prizes for fat calves Red tape holds up new bridge Sometimes editors suffer brain lock and write a well, duh headline. Here's a few actual newspaper headlines along those lines, again gathered from the Web: Plane too close to ground, crash probe told Man is fatally slain Death causes loneliness, feeling of isolation I really wish I could tell you I don't make these kind of mistakes. But a few years ago I filled in as a copy editor at the News-Times. At the time, gray whales were seen swimming along the shores of South Whidbey. The front page headline which I wrote for that story: Wales spotted off South Whidbey. Those British Isles should stop swimming around so much.Mike Page-English is editor of the News-Times. He can be reached at"

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