Bloopers create infamous days in journalism

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

I never wanted to drown Little Miss Merry Christmas, but I was accused of plotting this unthinkable crime when my headline came rolling out of our newsroom printer.

On this fateful day in the early 1990s, my then colleague Janet Bresenham came waving a piece of paper I had just printed for our Sunday edition of the Portales News-Tribune. The huge black and white letters read: “Little Miss Merry Christmas to be Drowned.”

I almost died of laughter and embarrassment, knowing that I would never live this one down amongst my fellow journalists. The headline was supposed to say: “Little Miss Merry Christmas to be Crowned” but after a long work week and with a simple mistroke on the keyboard I had inadvertently pressed the “D” instead of the “C” key. I was a victim of finger fatigue. Yet my colleagues, Carlon Bennett and Janet, accused me of having a subconscious desire to drown Little Miss Merry Christmas.

Thank God this headline was caught before it hit the streets. But over the past 17 years of my journalism career, I’ve had a few newspaper bloopers that didn’t get caught in time. I’ve also heard funny stories from editors about other newspaper bloopers and I enjoy watching Jay Leno’s collection of headline bloopers from across the country.

I have another headline blooper that tops the one above and did make print. It’s one I am so embarrassed and ashamed to admit and one which actually made the Columbia Journalism Review. Don’t ask me what I was thinking that day or even my copy editors, who also missed this major headline blooper, which read: “Muslims, Christians, Jews Celebrate Easter Differently.”

That one took a lot of courage for me to share. But as I look back, we were seriously overworked during those days. We didn’t complain about the overtime pay and our editors permitted it because back then we operated under the philosophy, “If you take the time to write it down and bring it in, no matter how insignificant the event, then by golly, we’ll publish it!”

There were times, however, when the workload did catch up to us. And this led us to do something one Fourth of July that backfired on us. Our newspaper always went to press early on holidays. However, we were an afternoon newspaper back then and were told the newspapers would not be delivered until very late that night. So Carlon and I got a clever idea. We figured that all fireworks photos look the same, so why not use a file photo from last year? So a file photo ran, but the caption below said something like “Portales residents enjoyed a colorful display of fireworks tonight.”

Imagine our horror when we found out there was a change of plans and newspapers hit the doorsteps before the fireworks show. The next day one of our loyal readers said, “Wow, how did ya’ll do that? Did ya’ll get a preview of the fireworks?” This was not a great moment in small-town newspaper history. Never again!

One newspaper blooper occurred when I worked for the Hobbs Daily News-Sun in Hobbs. Our photographer took a colorful photo of a ripe red chile pepper plant. The problem was the caption he wrote, which read “These chiles will be cut and later made into mouthwatering dishes like chile rellenos.” A faithful reader, Irene Salgado, called our newspaper editor, Manny Marquez, and chided us, saying, “You don’t use red chile to make chile rellenos. You use green chile.”

When I worked for the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas, our editor told us about an overzealous copy editor who was told to take out the words yesterday, today or tomorrow from any story and replace them with the specific day of the week so as not to confuse our readers about when something happened. However, the copy editor was not told that direct quotes were an exception. As a result, a quote from a politician which was suppose to say “I wasn’t born yesterday” came out in the newspaper saying, “I wasn’t born Tuesday.”