Misteaks steenk

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 3, 2007

If there was a 12-step recovery program available to those who contribute to newspapers over the years and wanted to repent, one step would certainly be to make amends to those we have harmed over the years.

Because, as a higher power as our witness, we have harmed many.

And I might be the league leader in what we affectionately call correction contributors. That is, someone who has made more than one’s share of errors.

Don’t like to say that, but it’s true. Some weren’t my fault directly; others can be placed squarely on my shoulders.

In this business, to err is human; to forgive seldom happens.

And the smaller the newspaper, the greater is the chance of something incorrect seeing the light of a morning sun. Bigger papers have a ton of resources scouring the pages — the shear mathematical possibilities dictate that more potential errors get caught.

The mistake is in the paper for the world to see, and there’s no taking it back. Apologies let the offended persons know we are human and we do feel badly for getting something wrong, but it ruins the first meal after we start our shift.

And to demonstrate our addiction to this work, we come back that same day, after that ill-tasting meal, for another potential dose of embarrassment.

Granted, over time, like old wounds, some mistakes don’t feel so fresh, don’t feel so bone-scraping. But at the time they felt awful…

– I once wrote a story about a boy who was donating bone marrow to his older brother for a transplant to help cure his leukemia. I had what I thought was a great story lead: “On Thursday, Josh is going to wake up with a big pain in his little butt.” Trouble was, his name wasn’t Josh, but Joel. I spent so much time thinking of a cute lead, I forgot one important fact.

– In the day when newspaper pages were put together before computers, they were assembled with pieces of paper, cut and placed in their appropriate places. I wrote a story of a dairy farmer. We took two pictures to accompany the story: one of the farmer with his wife, one of the farmer with one of his dairy cows. Guess under which photo this caption appeared: “Dairy farmer Ed Gotwals credits his wife of 24 years for helping keeping the farm running smoothly.” Neither his wife nor one of his cows were amused. The farmer was, though.

– a dear friend of mine wrote a caption praising the quality of the claw-bearing seafood at a local “crap house.”

– just in the last few weeks, I misidentified a dog as a “he.” She was probably not amused, if she could read.

That’s just a small sampling.

As I got older and actually hired would-be newspaper contributors, one question I asked of reasonably experienced applicants was, “With all the words and stories you’ve had published over your years, what is the one error, mistake or embarrassment that you wish you could extract from the world?” If the applicant’s answer is, “None,” he or she never got the job.

No one in this business is error-free. We just wish we were.