They’re the words no journalist wants to hear.

“There’s a typo in your story,” said my colleague.

“What?” I quickly flicked through the newspaper to the indicated page. “That can’t be. I read that thing through at least a half dozen times.”

And yet there it was. My eyes zoomed right to it: an extra “s.” It could not have been more obvious if it were circled in cocaine and lit by a disco ball.

I’d written “professionals photographers” instead of “professional photographers.” Crap!

I know: it’s not the end of the world. But the reading public expects a newspaper’s content to be perfect. I’d let them down. On top of that, I imagined staffers at the The Competition shaking their heads, making a “tsk-tsk” sound and noting that “oh, so he’s not as perfect as he’d like everyone to believe.” Double crap!

It’s not the first time a typo has slipped through. Inevitably, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. And, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, an extra “s” is more sloppy than embarrassing.

If you’re looking for embarrassing, the king of them all is, of course, omitting the “l” from “public.”

“The mayor called for a pubic debate on the issue.” “The president was encouraged by pubic reaction to his speech.”

Ouch and double ouch. That is the epitome of cringe-worthy. And yet I have seen it done.

An interesting flip side to that was found in a magazine story I was reading about Brazilians. It read something like, “More and more men are opting to have the hair removed from their public areas.”

A typo in reverse. Now that’s a new one.

I was spurred to share these thoughts by a recent headline I spotted in one of our national newspapers.

It was datelined the United States and read “tenn girls murdered by ‘Speed freak killers’ named”.

My first thought was that the headline writer was using the abbreviation for Tennessee (Tenn.) and had simply forgot to uppercase the “T” and add the period. I was wrong. Because the third sentence in the story mentioned teen girls. So the headline should have read “Teen girls murdered . . . ”

Somewhat less than professional, methinks.

Of course newspaper typos aren’t limited to journalists — sales reps have messed up as well. Viking Woman should know. In another life, she sold newspaper ads and told me the normal chain of command would involve a design person putting the ad together, which would then be proofed both by the sales rep and the person/company paying for the ad. So that’s three sets of eyes before the ad goes to print.

Which doesn’t explain how one supermarket ended up advertising a 99-cent deal on two-litre Cock. I’m going to guess that store manager sprayed Coke out his nose when he read that in the morning paper. On the bright side, he did report an upswing in the number of female customers. I guess size – and weight – does matter.

Another Viking Woman whoopsie involved a small classified ad that was supposed to read “some shift work required.” It appeared in the paper (after passing through the proofing process) as “some shit work required.”

Not exactly a laughing matter at the time but Viking Woman did hear from several sources that various staff room bulletin boards had that ad posted and circled with remarks along the lines of “So you think your job is bad.”

An extra “s”? Yeah, I’m not going to sweat it. But lesson learned: I will be more diligent in the future. Especially if the story involves someone drinking Cock in pubic.

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Howe too lurn reel gud.

December 23, 2008

Call to extend the school day

–Headline on Page 1 of New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post, dated December 23, 2008

I second that call but would like to add a new one: extend the number of school days as well.

It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand and, with Christmas looming, it’s no surprise the streets are filled with lost boys and girls. Wandering listlessly in the way teens have since God invented the filthy beasts, bemoaning their lives like they had a bloody mortgages to pay. Hate to break it to you, my fine young cannibals, but it only gets worse.

But I’ve seen these same kids wandering these same streets during what I assumed were school days. Although it’s difficult to tell in New Zealand, where term breaks seem to occur every other week.

When we managed a B&B in Gisborne six years ago, the deal included a car and the owners’ son. I swear Young Sam spent more time surfing than sitting in a classroom. And it wasn’t because he was flagging school or anything. But it seemed he would just be finished with holidays and along would come some kind of Professional Day for the teachers to shorten the week.

These days, Young Sam is apprenticing to be a tradesman, when he isn’t working as a snowboard instructor, so all that readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (known as maths in NZ) was probably a waste of his surfing time anyway.

(Sam was a good kid but he did try us on one day by walking around the house wearing a beanie — what we Canadians call a toque — and trying to look all gangsta. Viking Woman didn’t blink — after all, we’re both Children of the Sixties, an era during which they invented both rock’n’roll and sex, and so have seen it all, sometimes twice — and simply asked Sam if he was cold. We never saw the beanie again.)

In my day — and you can stop rolling your eyes right now — we had to walk to school uphill both ways. In the snow. No, wait, that’s my Dad’s story.

We went to school every single day, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. No term breaks, no extended holidays, no field trips. OK, maybe it just felt like that way at the time, but my point is the education system didn’t dick around. Between the ages of six and 18 you had one mission in your miserable life and that was to learn. We had to wait until after graduation to have fun. (The fact that I’m still waiting is probably my own damn fault.)

No teachers’ Professional Days. Or Development Days, or whatever the hell they call something that is basically Teachers Sitting Around Drinking Coffee Days  (known to parents as Now What the Hell Do I Do With These Little Shits? Days).

Normally, I could care less about teenagers. They’ve got spotty faces and their music blows. Plus, I know what awaits them in adulthood and it’s going to wipe away those smug little smirks awful darn fast.

But I hate their ignorance. And by that I mean their lack of spelling skills. Now, I admit I’ve made some doozy mistakes all on my own — forgetting the “l” in public being only the most embarrassing gaffe I can recall at this moment — but those were due to sloppy editing and fat typing fingers and not because I was clueless to begin with.

I know the difference between too, to and two. Between it’s and its. Between your and you’re. Between grisly and grizzly. (That last one causes me to scream every single time).

From what I’m seeing out there (and even in here with my fellow WordPress bloggers), a lot of people have no idea.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the entire world needs an editor, and that thought is only reinforced when I see “lightning” spelled “lightening.” As if those jagged streaks were somehow caused by Mother Nature lessening her load.

Typos? Lack of a spell check program? I believe it’s more a lack of basic English skills. And I do mean basic.

And that scares the hell out of me, especially when I see newspaper editors hiring kids off the street simply because it means they can avoid paying the top union-mandated wage for a veteran journalist like myself. “You get what you pay for” has never been more true.

So, yeah, have the little shits stay in school longer. Maybe an extra hour surrounded by books will elevate their education, if only by osmosis.

It’s either that or we make them walk uphill both ways. That’ll learn ’em.