A newspaper is a marvel, even a miracle to some people.
Once, up until a few years ago, there were 1,730 of them published daily in the United States with a combined circulation of nearly 62 million.
That was then. This is now. Many of the once-thriving periodicals have bitten the dust, so to speak. Those remaining are only a shadow of their former glory.
The reason for their demise is disputed nationally by journalistic pundits from all levels of the profession. Many point to the Internet and other social media such as Twitter and Facebook as reasons for failures of the print media in the 21st century.
Others decry the “fake news” and “misinformation” of the publishing industry, perhaps largely because most newspaper ownership now is in the hands of non-journalists, such as large corporations that swing to the extreme left side of the information markets and political agendas. Prime examples are The New York Times and the Washington Post, both of which are routinely criticized for their flagrant violations of public trust, showing little or no concern for journalism ethics and fairness. In other words, they don’t always tell the truth.
At the same time, limitless possibilities exist for error, both human and mechanical, chiefly because of staff reductions and budget cutbacks owing to advertising shortfalls and circulation losses.
Add the crushing pressure of deadlines and news gathering in an increasingly competitive market and it is surprising there aren’t even more errors, inaccuracies, and blunders that get published because of fewer copy editors.
I’ve made practically every kind of mistake that can be made in print, especially during my years as a journeyman writer with small newspapers.
On one occasion, when I was taking an obituary over the phone, the funeral director told me that arrangements were incomplete for a deceased gentleman at his funeral parlor.
I took down the information in longhand before I learned the advantages of taking notes on the typewriter and didn’t write the obit until the next day.
Somehow, probably due to my poor handwriting, I transcribed the notes to read: financial arrangements are incomplete instead of funeral arrangements.
Luckily, the desk man caught the mistake. He didn’t fire me outright, probably because he knew I was just starting out in the newspaper trade.
Nevertheless, he admonished me severely, saying that it could have cost him his job if the error had gotten past him and gone to press. I quickly learned the difference between financial and funeral arrangements for future references.
But that wasn’t the only faux pas I committed during my initiation period as a newspaperman.
While writing another obit, I apparently had typed a.m. instead of p.m. in the section that told when acquaintances were welcome to call on family members. I had written that friends may call at the funeral home Sunday after 3 a.m.
I probably wouldn’t have learned of the mistake had I not strolled into the town’s recreation lounge after work later that afternoon.
Some local funeral directors in their customary black attire were shooting a friendly game of billiards as I started through the swinging doors.
“I’d just like to get my hands on that idiot who wrote that friends may call at the funeral home on Sunday from 3 a.m. until 5 a.m.,” the gentleman blurted. “I’ve been in the funeral business for 40 years and I’ve never laid out a corpse at 3 a.m.”
I nearly laughed out loud. Surely that wasn’t me. How dumb, I thought.
Still, I didn’t enter the pool hall. Instead, I shot out the front door and ran up the street to the newspaper office. I pulled out the Saturday edition and looked for the obit. It was mine. I didn’t return to the local billiards parlor until several days later.
Some of the goofs committed by this writer, however, were not entirely my fault. Readers frequently sent in shorts, briefs, notices, and other correspondence that was barely legible. But when the slipups popped up on the printed page, the editors would scurry to print corrections.
I remember a few in particular. A certain individual (his name escapes me probably for good reason) had sent in a brief notice that he and his wife, both avid shotgun buffs, were planning to entertain some trap shooters during a party at their home on the coming Saturday.
I don’t know how it happened, but it came out in the paper as “planning to entertain some crap shooters” at their domicile in the city.
You can imagine how furious the couple was when a deluge of uninvited riffraff started pouring in from all over town.
On the following Monday morning, my editor told me to vacate the premises via the backdoor until the man cooled off and put away his firearm.
Soon after that miscue, I left for college to study journalism before plunging myself into the profession again.
Over the years, though, I’ve kept an eye out for similar misprints and humorous headlines. Here are a few of my favorites:
Top o’ the morning!