More newsroom horror stories

October 15, 2003
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I asked folks to submit their newsroom horror stories. Craig Lancaster sent this gem along.

Hi, Tom:


My story is rooted in the folly of youthful angst. I was 22 and working at the Texarkana Gazette, and I was having a devil of time finding out the topic of the outdoors writer’s column. I ask the sports editor. He doesn’t know. I ask the assistant sports editor. He doesn’t know. I ask the outdoors writer himself. He’s not sure yet.



I walk back to my Mac and type the following words into the promo: “What’s Coleman’s column about? Beats the hell out of me.”


You can imagine what happened. It ran. Thirty-three thousand copies.


But here’s the amazing part: We didn’t get a single phone call. In fact, nobody at the Gazette was even aware of it until I noticed it five days later. I turned myself in. My boss could barely suppress his giggling as he “reprimanded” me.


Even today, I can manage only a half-laugh when I tell the story. When I think of how easily I could have written “beats the fuck out of me,” I shudder. That, I’m sure, would not have gone down nearly as easily with my boss.


The lesson is one that every reporter and editor everywhere should know: Never type something into the system that you would be embarrassed to publish.

More notes on errant tpe

Here’s a fun excerpt from a note I got the other day from Jack Rosenzweig, a former newsroom hand who designs pagination systems for a living now (sorry, I will not give this guy’s home address so you can send your kids to TP his shrubbery). He was writing in response my post about my worst correction.

I think the worst error I made was rushing to get some flats off the
floor and leaving a 10″ tail hanging over a 5X16 ad. I had blue-lined it and
had the “word” of the union employee that was to make the cut that he would
take care of it so I could get ready for the next edition, so I signed off.
Then he got distracted and let the page go without the cut. Ooops …



Didn’t get in too much trouble, though we hade to rerun the ad …



Worst trouble I ever got into was the night before election day in ’92, I think. I
had to fill in and run the News desk, which I hadn’t done in months, having
been promoted to Design Editor and working days mostly at that point.
Anyway, I was at the helm and this was pre-pagination, when you had to lock
in your color positions 3-4 hours before deadline. I had been promised an
18″ story that was being bannered across 6 columns and jumping inside.



When the story came in, 15 minutes before deadline, it was barely 9 inches
long. So the kindly folks out back cut the grafs and lines apart to stretch
it to fill. Looked bad, but we made deadline. Got an irate call first thing
in the morning from the Executive Editor, “what the fuck did you do to my
front page?” I thought there was a typo in a head, or something libelous for
him to wake me on election day, when I would be putting in 20 hours or so …


Nope, just pissed about the leading.

Please send me your horror stories and I’ll post ‘em here.

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