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My biggest mistakes

My eminent colleague, Phillip Blanchard, sent an invitation on Facebook * to answer this question: “What's the stupidest thing you've ever done in journalism?” My answer, “So hard to single out one among the multitude,” can be expanded here.

1. Early on, writing a headline for The Cincinnati Enquirer saying that the mayor of Newport had been accused of corruption, for a story about the sheriff being linked to corruption in Newport. (Or the reverse; it was 27 years ago.) I have no idea why I did that, but I earned the reproach of the slotman and the first published correction for which I was responsible.

2. Writing an electronic message on the company machine about someone and mistakenly routing that to the subject. That happened twice, actually, and cost me two friendships.

3. Not pointing out during a tryout at The New York Times that I had caught on a duplicate of daily copy an error that the copy desk missed, and which led to a correction. Actually, this one was two mistakes: not pointing the error out to the slotman so that the error could have been caught before publication, and trusting that the editors looking at my work would notice the catch without my pointing it out. (They told me to find a job on a paper that took editing seriously and call them up in a couple of years. I did the first but not the second.)

4. Seeing in an instant how I could improve, on edition deadline, the deck on the lead headline in The Sun, and making a typographical error in my haste. The morning of publication happened also to be the day that the American Society of Newspaper Editors convened in Baltimore for its national convention. Happily, by the time I reported in for work that afternoon, the managing editor had already savaged several persons and was too tired to bother with me.

5. Staying at The Enquirer two years longer than I needed to, or should have, in the vain and naive hope that the management of the paper would grow less stupid and vicious. ** In mitigation, the birth of twins would have slowed me down in any case.

And yes, there is more, but, dear reader, we will draw the veil over yet more painful experiences. The principal question of the moment is whether my continuing to work in daily newspaper journalism will eventually qualify for an entry under the heading for this post.


* Yes, I’m on Facebook. I originally signed up mainly to spy on my children, but now anybody can join, and several colleagues have.

** Hey, I’ve been gone from the Queen City for more than 21 years, and all the people who were in charge then are gone. I have no information on the current hierarchy.



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:09 PM | | Comments (6)


One addendum:

Though I myself am sadly prone to error, I can say without equivocation -- their public statements will bear this out -- that no publisher, editor or manging editor under whom I have worked has ever made a bad decision.

In a sports column I wrote in the late '70s, I referred to "the late Walter Alston." The day the story ran, a reader pointed out that the former Dodgers manager was not yet dead. Defensively, I replied, "Well, he should be!"

You misspelled "mangy."

I wrote "pubic park" instead of "public park" in a headline. A reader called in to say he'd like to see that park!

While hosting a live performance by the Emerson String Quartet, I was rabbiting on (in the trade we call it 'filling') about the Quartet #Something by Jean Sibelius. I said confidently that Sibelius was filthy when he wrote it. Well, who is to say he was not: the bohemian ways of artists are well known. My producer and engineer were apoplectic with glee.

I tend to beat myself up when I make a mistake, so it was nice to read this and see that no copy editor is perfect. But, of course, we do try.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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