Mistakes, like the coming night, are inevitable in this business. We all make them and one of the most routine is the common spelling error.
This is true despite our best efforts. In fact, sometimes it feels like I am more likely to make spelling mistakes if I am absolutely determined not to do so. It’s as if the act of concentration causes “e” and “i” to transpose or for “their” to come out of the keyboard as “there.” Does that happen to you, too?
Sometimes our readers are understanding; sometimes they treat us as if we are buffoons, because lord knows they never make mistakes like that. Sometimes they suggest that the newspaper was once much more skillfully edited and that such errors are more common today. That may be true, particularly if your publication has lost a copy editor in the last few years.
But don’t let anyone tell you that newspapers were once perfect. That just isn’t the case. …
This week, in The Times Insider, New York Times metro writer David Dunlap noted that his paper, one of the best in the world, has always made mistakes. (He should know: He’s been writing for The Times for 40 years.)
As Exhibit A, he suggests a 1940 story about Romanian concerns of falling to the axis powers during World War II. The byline reads, “C.L. Sulzburger.” Cyrus Leo Sulzberger was a journalist and part of the family that owned the Times. That’s right: On more than one occasion, the newspaper misspelled the owner’s name.
Obviously, it helps to have more than one pair of eyes on copy before it goes to print. The more people who see the story and the page, the fewer spelling mistakes. It also helps to see it in different formats, for reasons I can’t fully explain. Read it on the screen, then on a printed proof. Look at the first papers coming off the press to look for big, ugly headline mistakes.
You know all that stuff. Journalism is like baseball. You play another game every day. You will make a dumb mistake. Dust yourself off and get back in the batter’s box.