Let’s get this out first.
I’ve made my share of mistakes in print. There are a number of problems with making a mistake in the newspaper. They stay around forever. They get archived.
So, cognizant of the biblical warning about sinners casting stones, I’m reluctant to point out the follies of others in my trade.
But this one in the Star-Telegram gave me pause:
“White Settlement police responded to a dead person shortly after 7 p.m. Friday …”
Really? How exactly did the dead person contact police? Did he text or phone? What did the deceased say? How did he say it? And what was the dead person’s reaction when police responded?
Will the police tell us all this? Or will the dead man rise up once again to explain?
We’ve all heard about a person’s dying words but rarely do we hear of a dead man’s words. I’ve seen reporters so talented they could get anyone to say just about anything but I never saw one who could persuade a dead man to speak.
This is one story that goes in my personal record books. By the way, a dead person reaching out to police strikes me as a much bigger story than the possible murder that led to his death.
And despite the many unanswered questions, there may be an uplifting message in all this: We can take heart in the knowledge that, dead or alive, we can contact the police and they will respond.
Then there was this. A photographer new to a newspaper I once ran rushed into the newsroom one night and said he had taken a photo of the mayor, a man we knew went to great lengths to avoid having his picture in the paper. Not all papers, I should add – just ours. The mayor was not a fan.
As the paper was being put to bed, I went home.
The next morning, I saw the prized photo on our front page. Great shot. One problem: The man in the picture was not the mayor.
Questioned about his mistake, the photographer said: “Well, he told me he was the mayor!”
This type of thing is why journalists become increasingly distrusting and cynical as they meander along the roads of their careers. Folks lie to you.
As the late, great journalist David Halberstam once advised (and I paraphrase): Don’t believe your mother is your mother just because she says so.
At the same paper, we regularly ran a full-page Saturday ad from a clock shop –Ye Olde Clocks. Often, we made mistakes in the ad.
The owner was in his 80s and would phone me on Monday to chew me out about the mistakes. During each call he would mention his age and reference mine. I was in my 30s.
“I’m fifty years older than you and I will come to the paper and kick your ass if you do this again,” he would warn.
One Saturday, his ad was supposed to say: “We fix old clocks.”
We misspelled clocks, leaving out the “l.”
Monday morning my office phone rang.
The store owner said: “Thanks for your incompetence one more time. That’s the most successful ad I ever ran. Folks, mostly men, were lined up outside my store when I opened on Sunday.”
And let’s not forget the time a mischievous reader tricked us into publishing a fake wedding story in which all the participants’ names were salacious references to body parts.
The bride: Glory S. Knockers.
As we ponder the potential death of print, we are forced to imagine life without mistakes in black and white – mistakes that keep us both laughing and grounded in the reality that to err is human. Or is it “humane?”
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org