This being a family blog, one doesn’t usually find this sort of thing here. But since I’m told that it actually appeared in a South Carolina newspaper — it was all the talk at the round table of regulars at the Capital City Club this morning — I suppose I should deal with it.
The above image is purportedly from The Greenville News, and The Village Voice wonders about it:
How does that even happen?
We’ve reached out to the Greenville News copy desk, who hopefully will be able to chime in on how the most hilarious copy editing mistake of the year came to be.
Jim Romenesko spoke to a reporter there who said that the paper was getting complaints already (from people who are apparently no fun) and apologizing to them.
Well, I’ll tell ya…
- First, someone appears to have violated a cardinal rule — don’t put anything, in any way, shape or form, into copy, however temporarily or intended for internal consumption, that you wouldn’t want to see in the paper. Ever. It’s tempting to share sarcastic asides between reporters and editors, but get up and walk across the room to do it. Don’t ever put it in the copy, because the chance of this happening is too great. (When I supervised reporters, I told them not even to make the slugs — the internal names — of their stories — anything embarrassing. Because, back in the pre-pagination days, it was way too easy for that stray piece of type at the top to get stuck to the page after it was trimmed off in the composing room.)
- Second, the page didn’t get proofed. At all. By anyone. There are a lot of ways this can happen in understaffed newsrooms, but here’s the most merciful scenario: The page was proofed, and “corrected” type was sent through, and somehow had this word in it (perhaps it was the initial response of a stressed editor who had thought that page was gone already), and no one looked at the page again after it was put on there.
But basically, there is no excuse that serves.
It’s easy to blame this, as Romenesko does, on the extreme practice at newspaper companies of having copyediting done off-site. But basically, with this sort of error, if it’s going to happen, it could happen anywhere. The reason having copyediting done off-site is phenomenally stupid is that it increases the chance of an error that no local person would make, and only a local person would notice. And if mid-size to small papers are not locally authoritative, they are nothing.
By the way, something like this happened at The Jackson (TN) Sun when I worked there back in the 70s. We were in that interim stage between linotype machines and front-end computer systems. Copy would be edited and then output onto a rolled-up strip of punchtape. The tape would be fed into a typesetting machine that would roll out the copy on photographic paper. Occasionally, the tape would hang up while being fed through the machine. The result would be a stutter, and a letter would be repeated over and over until the kink worked its way through.
The initial error would not be human. But it was up to humans to catch it and correct it before the page was let go.
One day, that failed. The punch tape on an obit — an obit, of all things, the holy of holies — snagged briefly while going through the machine. Instead of saying that services would be held at the funeral home, it came out, “services will be held at the fukkkkkkkkkk home.”
It was caught partly through the press run, but some papers had already gone out. Including the one that went to the bereaved family.
Our publisher — or was it the executive editor? — personally delivered a corrected copy to that family, along with the most abject of apologies.