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Just Another Point of View: As long as we're human, there will surely be mistakes

Last week’s Lake Oswego Review contained one of those boo-boos that leaves everybody in my business a little sick to their stomachs.

On Page A9, a pair of guest commentaries by Steve Coury and Gerry Good contained dopey-looking headlines that were supposed to run across four columns, two lines deep, but instead had only six words each — and they fell woefully short of filling the space. And for what it’s worth, we newspaper people pride ourselves on making headlines fill as much of the available space as possible.

In fact, that’s how we know that headlines in the movies were not really written by the pros: They run short on the page or the second line fails to fill the space.

For what it’s worth, Review Editor Gary Stein and I had agreed the heads should be expanded to solve this problem — which we did (he wrote more words, and I, as the paper’s page designer, plugged them into the hole) — and yet, for some reason, the corrected version is not what went to press and appeared in Thursday’s paper.

To anyone else, of course, it’s just sort of funny when we catch a glimpse of the process going a little bad. That’s certainly how I feel when I hear TV people caught jabbering unknowingly on camera or the wrong video pops up with a story.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say it sometimes makes us feel better to see someone flub — not unlike the sensation that comes with watching somebody slip on a banana peel.

And our mistakes can indeed be funny.

I don’t believe I ever heard anyone laugh as loud as Review city reporter Mark Garber (now our boss here at Pamplin Media Group) did in the early 1980s when he discovered a note at the end of a feature story about a kid and his pet goose, which the paste-up person had just moved up to finish the story. It ended with this sentence: “Maybe we could have Alan stop by on his way to work and shoot a photo for this.”

I still giggle about the time the Ben Franklin store in Woodburn boasted in its weekly ad in the Independent that it was having a big sale on “4-inch bowels.”

But, of course, not all the flubs strike us as humorous.

During my reign as editor of The Review, I had the dubious honor of having to call up county commissioner candidate Bev Henderson to explain why the headline over a story about her said, “Henderson promises nonsense campaign.”

First of all, because she hadn’t seen the paper yet, it took a lot of talking to explain what the mistake even was. Then it took even more talking to explain WHY it happened. As it turns out, our paste-up guy again was the guilty party. The original headline read “no-nonsense campaign” — but because it was a practice in those days to insert a hyphen so he’d know where to cut the head to overlap characters and form the final version — he just followed the old protocol and came up with a drastically different meaning.

But perhaps the most unfunny boo-boo that got into print (for a short time) was a “humorous” caption I wrote for the front page of the West Linn Tidings about a couple of picketers in front of a supermarket. While we were waiting for the rest of the paper to come together, I had a good old time making up completely X-rated names for the picketers. Then, when all the rest of the stuff on the page was complete, I deleted the nasty stuff and made it all correct.

Or so I thought.

Later that night, I received a call from my boss, Steve Clark, asking who might have been fooling around with the cutline in the Tidings. He said a pressman was sitting in the break room eating his lunch and reading the paper when he saw the unbelievably ghastly wording.

Steve had his own suspicions, so he asked if it was (name withheld to protect the innocent). No, I said, it was me and nobody else. Then I offered to resign, but Steve wouldn’t accept it. He did tell the press crew to throw out the entire run and print the Tidings over again.

Of course, this incident has been described by me ever since as the night I found Jesus.

I am now a strict advocate of not goofing around with the unfinished versions of the newspaper. No matter how good we think we are, there is always the possibility that the earlier version of the page can find its way into print (see last week’s Review) — and then there almost certainly will be hell to pay.

Now all I can say for sure, when mistakes find their way into print, is that human fallibility, not any evil intention, was to blame.

I did have another revealing conversation along these lines with a woman when I was managing editor of the Tigard Times a few years back. She was complaining about an error that appeared in the paper. I was trying to explain it AND to apologize for it.

“I just don’t understand how something like this could happen,” she said, not really hearing (or maybe not believing) my attempt at damage control. “After all, you’re the newspaper.”

“No, ma’am, I am not,” I replied. “I’m a person, just like all the other people who work here. And none of them, that I’m aware of, is perfect.”

Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Mikel Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.

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