The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 6, 2014

We all make misteaks, er, mustakes, ah misstakes, um, boo-boos

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Contrary to what some may believe, those of us in the newspaper business hate to make misteaks, er, mustakes, ah, misstakes, um, boo-boos.

Errors drive us crazy, make our bosses furious and make our newspaper look foolish.

Mistakes are unacceptable and inexcusable, but entirely understandable. We news folk are, after all, only human.

I am not proud to say I have made my share of typos over the decades. Some would say more than my share.

I once wrote a rather large headline on our newspaper’s editorial page that contained the word “public.” At least it was supposed to say public. I left off the L.

I am not alone. In May of 2012, the University of Texas at Austin held commencement exercises for its Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Except on the front of the graduation program they didn’t spell public correctly. It was another case of the missing L. I feel their pain.

Public is one of those words you don’t really want to misspell in the newspaper. Shift, is another, as is shirt. Again, leaving out one letter changes the word’s meaning, and tone, immeasurably.

Every late winter, we produce a series of special sections documenting many of the good things going on in Enid and northwest Oklahoma. This year’s version is called “Growing Forward.”

Every section has a theme. One year, the theme of one section was “Community.” I was in charge of designing pages back then, and writing headlines.

When that Community section was finished, I proofread it until my eyes crossed. I read every word in the section, then passed it to one of my fellow editors to peruse. After he likewise painstakingly scrutinized it, the section went to print.

It was only later, when I picked up one of the finished sections, that I noticed the large header atop the front page read, “Commumity.” I was heartsick. My boss was apoplectic.

That was far from the worst typographical error ever recorded, but it sure felt like it at the time.

The name of the newspaper, appearing in large type at the top of the front page, is known in the business as the flag. For the Valley News, a newspaper that serves Vermont and New Hampshire, the flag was at half-mast one day in July 2008 when readers saw the words, “Valley Newss,” plastered atop the front of their paper.

To its credit, the paper ran an editor’s note the next day, which read “Readers may have noticed that the Valley News misspelled its own name on yesterday’s front page. Given that we routinely call on other institutions to hold them accountable for their mistakes, let us say for the record: We sure feel silly.”

Making a mistake is no sin, but trying to run away from it or covering it up is.

And there is no statute of limitations, it seems, on owning up to an error.

The New York Times, the Gray Lady, one of the bastions of journalism in the United States, recently admitted it made a mistake — 161 years after the fact.

On Jan. 20, 1853, the Times ran an article about Solomon Northup, a free black man drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery, whose story was made into the Oscar-winning film, “12 Years a Slave.”

The story detailed Northup’s travails, from his seizure to his enslavement, to his eventual release. The only problem was, the Times misspelled his name, calling him Solomon Northrop in the article. Not only that, they botched it twice, also referring to him in a headline as Northrup.

Ironically, it was Twitter that brought the errors to life. Author Rebecca Skloot found the article about Northup and tweeted about the errors.

Once the mistakes came to light, it didn’t take the Times long to issue a correction.

Better late than never, I suppose.

I just hope that 163 years from now, in whatever form the Enid News & Eagle takes in the year 2177, they won’t be correcting some horrible error of mine.

Just remember, to err is human, and to forgive is entirely at the discretion of the boss.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.