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Jim Romenesko's MediaNews Extra!

Whoops!: MediaNews readers share their favorite news bloopers

Posted Monday, October 23, 2000

JACQUELINE F. PALFY: When I worked for The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, OH, a woman was injured at the Lorain County Fair. We ran a headline following up the accident that said: Woman kicked by horse upgraded to stable.

Posted Tuesday, October 3, 2000

RANDY LUDLOW, Statehouse bureau chief, The Cincinnati Post: "As a young intern at The Indianapolis News back in the 1970s, I discovered the typographers in the composing room loved their fun back in the old days when headlines were set in hot type on the Ludlow machine. One of my favorite heds: 'Art lovers hail pubic opening.' Another favorite, from The Shelbyville (Ind.) News (where I formerly worked), was a society page item about a couple from the small burg of Acton. The horrifying headline on the story about their wedding: 'Newlywed Couple at Home in Action.' Finally, an all-time classic on a crime item from the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth: 'Woman Beats Off Male Attacker.'"

Posted Tuesday, June 20, 2000

MALCOLM WOODS, Editor, Exchange Magazine: "The very first news story I edited at Community Newspapers in Milwaukee's 'burbs concerned a fundraising bowling marathon being planned to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Assocaition. I was horrified to see the headline on the Thursday paper: 'Bowel-a-thon planned for MDA.' I still have no idea how much shit they raised."

SANDOR M. POLSTER, "Retired news junkie now living in Maine (news editor for the NBC Nightly News, 1986-93; writer for the CBS Evening News, 1973-85; reporter for the NY Post, 1968-73; reporter with the AP, 1967)": "When I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa in 1966, the Cedar Rapids Gazette had a first edition, eight column headline: REDS BEAT OFF AT OUTPOST. Some editor, apparently sensitive to hidden meanings, changed it in the next edition to: BEAT OFF REDS AT OUTPOST."

BILL JAMES: "In the Edmonton Journal of June 20, 1978, a map appeared which reversed the positions of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Journal is Alberta's largest newspaper."

TERRY P. GILLICK: "The Milwaukee NBC-TV affiliate, WTMJ-4, had sent a reporter to cover a plane mishap at Chicago's O'Hare Field. The reporter had done a reasonably good job on what turned out to be one of those 'it could have been a lot worse' stories. After chatting live and on-camera with the airport manager, the reporter then addressed the co-anchors back at the station. 'You know, Mike and Carol, I think it is important for us to remind the viewers that air travel is still the safest way to fly.'"

LUCY DALGLISH, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: "I was a copy editor at the Dakota Student newspaper at the University of North Dakota in the late 1970s. UND had an interesting occupational therapy course for people who were going blind, and we decided to write a feature story about it. The program was coordinated by a woman named Cora Como. She worked one-on-one with people who were losing their sight, and helped them learn to use a cane and perform other tasks that sighted people take for granted. The feature story was mostly about her, and our headline had a typo: 'Coma eases trauma for blind.'"

CHARLES GLASSER, First Amendment lawyer, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, NYC: "In the late 70's, when the current pontiff was elected, the Scripps-Howard p.m. daily, The Hollywood Sun-Tattler, intending to comment on the ascention of the first polish Pope, instead offered the following hed to its readers: 'VATICAN ELECTS FIRST NON-CATHOLIC POPE.'"

"REQUESTS ANONYMITY": "Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, July 12, 1985 Page: C03 /CLEARING THE RECORD/ In the Inquirer's somewhat over-ambitious effort to celebrate 'Be Nice to New Jersey Week' yesterday, the state was credited as being the birthplace of a few too many famous Americans. While Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Edison, Thomas Paine, Gen. George McClellan, Walt Whitman and Bob Guccione all made their homes in New Jersey at one time - and the New Jersey Turnpike has even named rest areas for Edison and Whitman - none had the good fortune to be born there. And while New Jersey has had its share of mishaps, the state's reputation cannot be tarnished by the sinking of the Lusitania. The ship went down off the coast of Ireland."

BERNIE BECK, deputy copy desk chief, San Francisco Chronicle: "My all-time favorite is from when I worked at the Los Angeles Daily News in the late 1970s. Our matronly society editor did her her own hedlines. On a column about a debutantes' event, she wrote: 'Debs to Ball Under Tent.'"

MICHAEL A. HILTZIK, Los Angeles Times: "My favorite object lesson in what Liebling called 'the futility of flapdoodle' dates from a misguided strategy we at the Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier-Express undertook in the mid-1970's to win an antitrust suit we filed against the Buffalo Evening News, which had just been bought by Warren Buffett and announced plans to bring out a Sunday edition to compete with ours (and, incidentally, give it away for free). To suck up to the judge hearing the case, we ran a long feature about how this no-nonsense jurist turned into a pushover when at home among his family. The headline: 'Judge Loses Firmness When he Doffs His Robe.'"

GREG WEATHERFORD, Editor, Inside Business: "A few years ago when I was managing editor at Style Weekly, a well-regarded alternative weekly in Richmond, Va., we ran an advertorial with menu listings from various local restaurants. Our listing for one of the toniest restaurants in town included a particularly appetizing dish: Roast Loin of Rabbi. I'm told this made Jay Leno's newspaper bloopers segment, though I never saw it myself. All I could think was, Thank God it was an advertising section."

STEVE MOHUNDRO, Copy editor, Amazon.com: "I worked on the student newspaper at Western Washington University, which is a rather liberal school. One day (in 1995) we ran a photo of a bake sale, put on by the Women's Resource Center, with all females in the frame (buying and selling baked goods). It was a late night of production, and the News editor finally wrote what he believed was an innocuous headline for the standalone photo: 'Cupcakes for a Cause.' You know, I think we ended up getting away with it."

LAWRENCE CHRISTON: "I'm a free-lance journalist at present, but I was a drama critic for the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and later a staffer for the Los Angeles Times. In a Herald review of a play starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., I alluded to the European setting of 'town burghers.' Someone changed the phrase to 'town burglars,' and that's the way it ran. At the Times, in trying to specify a social milieu, I made reference to the Harvard-educated poet e.e. cummings' line, "Cambridge ladies with furnished souls." The daily arts editor, fearing that the allusion might be too obscure for our dear readers, inserted the helpful note that 'Cambridge is a famous University in England.'"

JAMES MONTGOMERY: "Once had a photocopy of this classic headline from a New England daily regarding a big conglomerate's acquisition of the hometown American Screw Co.: Textron Makes Offer to Screw Co. Stockholders."

STEVE MAMANELLA, Director of Communications, Archdiocese of St. Louis: "I have two favorite newspaper gaffes: The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill., had a short story about a local abortion rights event to be held by McLean County Voices for Choice. The Pantagraph, however, referred to the group in the copy as McLean County Vices for Choice. The National Catholic Register, which has a regular grouping of stories under the category-headline 'World,' wanted to lead a story about someone being excommunicated with the simple headline 'Excommunicated.' Somehow the headline was put on the same line as the section headline, making the section headline say 'World Excommunicated.'"

STEVE GOSSET, CBS Radio: "Here's another doozy from the Syracuse Herald-Journal, where I worked part-time while going to graduate school. Each day they had a one-word headline above the weather forecast. On this particular day, it read 'Spooky,' appropriate because of the cloudy skies and since it was also around Halloween. Unfortunately, the way the column was laid out sometimes made the headline seem like a cutline. And right above 'Spooky' was a picture of Jesse Jackson. The headline was gone by the final edition."

STEPHEN LAWTON, Editor-in-Chief, MicroTimes: "One blooper in which I was an unwilling participant occurred when I attended Los Angeles Valley College and worked on the award-winning Valley Star student paper -- some time around 1974. I had co-authored a story about a new mannequin that was acquired by the Nursing Department -- it was designed to be either gender based on the parts the student chose to use. Another reporter wrote a piece about the cafeteria food. I can just image what the managing editor thought after she wrote these heads and laid them out, side-by-side, across the top of the back page: Students' Appetites Satisfied [and] Bisexual Mannequin Comes To Valley. One must wonder just what goes on at that school."

LESLIE WEST HOFFECKER, Director of Communications, San Diego Dialogue: "In the mid- to late 1970s at The Philadelphia Inquirer we utilized, for some reason known only to The Powers That Be, the services of a freelance pop-music critic (who shall remain nameless). His copy was so atrocious that we kept a large file of his bloopers for our own amusement, no doubt taxing the resources of the then-new computer system. Those of us on the Saturday night copy desk who were responsible for shepherding his reviews often thought about letting them run verbatim, but such factors as paying the mortgage got in the way of that source of fun. My favorite was his description of musician Leo Kottke as 'the leading progenitor of the guitar.' (Ouch!)"

MATT MURRAY: "This correction comes from the Newport News Daily Press, my former employer, and speaks for itself: 'An article in Saturday's Local section incorrectly reported that a suspect identified as "Fnu Lnu" had been indicted by a federal grand jury. "Fnu Lnu" is not a name. FNU is a law enforcement abbreviation for "first name unknown," LNU for "last name unknown." Officials knew the suspect only by the name 'Dezo.'"

TOM NORD, The Louisville Courier-Journal: "I don't know if these qualify as bloopers, but they are pretty funny. The first was printed years ago in my hometown newspaper, The New Albany (Ind.) Tribune. The wife of the late Grady Nutt, a comedian on 'Hee Haw,' was in town speaking to a church group. The headline read 'Nutt's widow to speak.' The other blooper was from my old paper, the Saginaw (Mich.) News. Cops arrested a guy on drug charges after frisking him and finding some coke in his BVDs. The headline read 'Crack found in underwear.'"

KATHY WOLFE: "I'm an intern this summer at The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, and about two weeks ago we ran a story about one of our local high schools' baseball prowess, and the strip headline screamed: 'Trojans are tough on the mound.'"

ERICKA PIZZILLO: "Here's my biggest blooper: I was writing a profile of a local environmentalist who was moving out of state and interviewing a number of people who worked with her on issues. I quoted another environmentalist as saying 'She's kept her finger in the dike' on the growing development issues around the local lake. The problem was I spelled the last word dyke. Color me red! Days went by without my noticing this until our librarian had the joy of sharing this misspelling with me."

ANNA LILLY: "Although I can't take credit for this one (and I wasn't even on staff when this headline ran), for some reason it has stuck with me. The weekly newspaper Business in Vancouver (in Vancouver, B.C., Canada) ran a story in the early 1990s about a local woman entrepreneur who was having great success with her new business. She sold washable, reusable maxi pads made of all natural materials. This was at the height of the reduce-reuse-recycle craze, so her business took off. Business in Vancouver ran the story with this headline: 'From rags to riches.'"

CHASE CLEMENTS, The Kansas City Star: "In eleven years at The Cincinnati Enquirer I can think of one side-splitting headline: Every year we'd do a 'Woman of the Year' series, and everyday for a week or two they'd do a medium-length feature on one of the women. Well, one year the woman's last name was named Head. The main headline was pretty mundane but the jump headline inside always used the woman's name and referred to a quote, so hers read: 'Head: You get more than you give.' It didn't make it too far into the early run to know that it wasn't going to last, but ... funny news travels fast in a newsroom."

BRUCE H. TURNER: "As a copy editor at the University of Alabama's Crimson-White, we were charged with writing heds for the stories we edited. One of my co-workers actually misspelled 'gaffe' in a headline. Naturally, it went to print."

MAX BERLEY, Copy editor, The International Herald Tribune: "Sorry, I don't have all the details of this one fresh in mind, but when I was a clerk at The New York Times in the mid-1980s, a copy editor on the national desk put a particularly funny hed on a story about the Supreme Court nominee Ginzburg having to pull out of the nomination process because it was discovered that he had smoked marijuana: 'High Court Nominee Admits He Smoked Marijuana.' This was subbed in subsequent editions."

Posted Sunday, June 18, 2000

BILL RICHMOND, Santa Fe, NM: "In 1961, right out of college, I was hired as a general assignment reporter for the Clovis (NM) News-Journal. At the time this was a small daily with a full-time staff of only five, so everybody did a little bit of everything, including a turn doing page makeup A co-ed named Myrtice Conn of Clovis was Miss New Mexico that year. So we naturally ran pix of her as often as possible. I guess I should also mention that her nickname was 'Sug' and she never used Myrtice. One day we had a story that the local gas company, Southern Union Gas, was for some reason or other (I forget now exactly why) giving refunds to its customers. Yep, you are getting ahead of me Right below a two-column 6-inch pix of 'Sug' Conn was a 36-point head saying 'SUG CUSTOMERS TO GET REFUNDS.' She was not upset in the least...in fact she got a kick out of it, but her Mother wasn't so generous."

JOHN CORCORAN, Syndicated Columnist and former Air Force base newspaper editor: "As a base information officer I always proof read the entire base paper. Not all items were about the Air Force personnel at the base. Some were about military wives. Thus when the wife of the base commander finished first in class at a base-sponsored sports car rally, that was news. However, I doubt the lady -- as women were sometimes known in the pre-lib sixties -- would have been pleased to read this: 'Meanwhile, in the women's division, Mrs. John M. Doe, wife of Base Commander John M. Doe, was the event's top lay in her Triumph Spitfire.'"

DAVE BULLARD, Managing Editor Fulton (NY) Daily News.com: "When somebody was foolish enough to pay me to commit radio journalism, I mangled a live piece on the holdup of the downtown Syracuse branch of Marine Midland bank. To wit (or nearly so): 'A man held up the Marine Midland brank banch....bank branch...just moments ago. He (story copy here). Police remain on the scene at the Marine Midland brank banch....(emphatic; self-pissed) BANK BRANCH.....looking for clues. Live at the Marine Midland brank banch....(long pause, defeated sigh) bank branch, Dave Bullard, Newswatch 62 WHEN.' Says the anchor, live, 'Ha ha, Thanks, ha ha, snicker, Dave, snort, more news coming up.' Cut to commercial."

BRIG C. McCOY: "I don't work there, but the Kansas City Star pulled a good one last year; the details are from their own mea culpa in the 08 Aug 1999 issue: '....Some bloopers are especially appalling. The July 30 Preview section included such a gaffe on Page 26. To illustrate a calendar item about National Clown Week, an editor grabbed a clown photo out of a file and didn't check the name. The clown was John Wayne Gacy, a Chicago serial killer of children. To say that readers knew better is an understatement.' Even worse, the cutline read: 'It's a rule. You MUST celebrate Clown Week, starting Sunday at the City Market.'"

  • Check out the Kansas City Star's Gacy layout

    FRANK LEWIS, Philadelphia City Paper: "When I worked at the South Philadelphia Review, a community weekly, a young co-worker renamed that famous building in the Vatican 'the Sixteenth Chapel.' The editor berated him until he pointed out that it had gotten past her. My favorite, however, came not from an article, but an ad, from the local gas company. The ad encouraged people to call 911 immediately upon detecting the odor of gas: 'You can stop a gas leak with your finger.'"

    JOHN CARTER, "Sunday Punch" columnist, Daytona Beach News-Journal: "Since 1976, I have been the keeper of the Blooper Bible for the Daytona Beach News-Journal... In 1986, we headlined a story about a routine zoning board meeting: 'Five Inch Protrusion Ruled Not Enough For Violation.' But my favorite was one of our ads, printed Dec. 2, 1982 for a local drugstore chain... It offered: 'Kotex Security Tampons Regular or sugar $1.99.'"

    KEN DENNEY, former Assistant Metro Editor, Augusta Chronicle: "It may be apocryphal at some newspapers, but I know for a fact that the newspaper in Augusta, Ga., once ran a headline about the current heir to the British throne introducing him as the 'Prince of Whales,' a promotion that might please the ecology-minded Charles. Then there was the cutline under a picture of Barbra Streisand the night she won two Golden Globe awards. The picture showed her posed with one award in each hand, holding them chest high. Of course the cutline read 'Twin Globes.'"

    ANDY IHNATKO: "Local weekend newscast about ten years ago. They end the broadcast with a typical 'ain't life wacky?' sort of news item using footage off the service, in this case a beachside 'Miss Nude America' competition. The engineer, naturally, obscured the naughty bits of the winner as she strolled proudly up and down the runway...but neglected to do anything about the hundreds of nudists in the audience behind her. The expression of the anchorman afterward was good enough that it belongs on a collector's plate."

    RICH SASKAL, Reporter, Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise: "Last year my former employer, the San Mateo County Times in the Bay Area, ran a standing Monday feature, 'Peninsula Faces of the Century,' to honor important figures in the history of the county. It always ran with a teaser box that included a photo of the honoree, with the story getting a big spread inside that included a huge photo. One week, the paper honored entertainer Merv Griffin, a San Mateo native. As it happens, there is a San Mateo County Supervisor named Mary Griffin. Who had a file photo in our system. Which was probably slugged mgriffin. Do I need to go on? Yes, the big feature on Merv Griffin ran with Mary Griffin's photo in our A.M. edition. Both on the teaser and the story. It was, of course, replaced for our p.m. editions. I heard Mary Griffin took it well. No word on Merv.

    SHARON JILL BEAR BERGMAN, Online Content Editor, jobdirect.com: "In college (and it seems that a lot of these stories begin this way) I was the music editor for a now defunct college rag in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, where I was responsible for writing most of the CD and concert reviews. A photo to accompany a story about then-breakout alterna-chick musician Ani DiFranco was supposed to run with the caption 'Ani D. wows the crowd at John M. Greene.' Unfortunately, when I left the article at the office to be set, I attached a post-it to the photo for my pal the editor to read which said 'Wicked hot guitar _and_ a hot little dyke - what more could you want?' Somehow she missed the fact that there was already a caption written in the correct spot, and ran my post-it note instead. Luckily, the musician thought it was fine. Phew."

    MARK RICHARDSON, Senior Assignment Editor, News 8 Austin: "Perhaps one of my most embarrassing print mistakes happened some years ago when I was the Sunday Edition Editor for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Our first edition was late (as usual) and one of the printers pointed out that our 'People' section on Page 2 was about five lines too long. It was an item about a British Cabinet Minister caught in a sex scandal Rather than re-edit on the computer, I quickly read it on the deck and marked a cut at what looked to be a logical endpoint. My alarm clock went off on Monday moring with the DJ hooting about the story in the Weekend paper in which 'British Defense Minister Harrington admitted to having a lengthy homosexual.'"

    DAVE BARTON: "I'm Dave Barton, a copy editor for L.A. Times' Orange County edition and formerly the same at the late and occasionally lamented Herald-Examiner and have seen a few classics in my time from both papers and the other daily to which I subscribe, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. The best of those: Some years back on Times religion page a hed saideth what seemed to be front-page news: 'Disciples of Christ Choose New Leader.' A banner in Her-Ex: U.S. Invades Pamana (of course an office wag immediately posted on the bulletin board 'A Nam, a Plan, a Canal: Pamana'). A hed thankfully caught on Her-Ex op-ed page proof in optimistic commentary about reforms in China: 'A Chink in the Great Wall.' Caught at Her-Ex before it got in print in story about an accused molester's trial: 'The defendant stood erect in the courtroom while denying the charges...' (Exhibit 'A" your honor!) Two true SGV Trib heds (from years ago): 'ucked to Death at 40,000 Feet' and, in about 84 point, 'Teamster Avdisor Mudered' (one word was spelled perfectly)."

    SANDRA LEE, Australia: "It was the job of lowly cadet journalists at The Melbourne Herald newspaper in Victoria, Australia, to compile the television details for each P.M. edition. One cadet who was geographically challenged was doing the mandatory phone check with one the programming clerks at one of the main TV networks and instead of hearing National Geographic: Mississippi River, Part One: he heard 'National Geographic, Mrs Zippy's River, Part One.'"

    ERIC DANTON: "When Dr. Ruth Westheimer canceled an appearance at the University of Rochester in the 1980s, the college paper announced the news with the headline, 'Dr. Ruth not coming.'"

    CAROL CIOE KLYMAN, former journalist, current lawyer: "Funny how so many of these bloopers involve religious events. When I was a young reporter at the Providence Journal way back in the mid-70s, an editor trying to drum beat the importance of verifying told an apocryphal tale of a new reporter from the midwest, unfamiliar with Roman Catholic funerary practices as well as the unique Rhode Island dialect, who referred in an obit about a 'massive Christian burial' to be held for a deceased individual. The reporter swore he had gotten that information from the funeral director and didn't think it sounded strange."

    JOHN HOLLENHORST, KSL-TV, Salt Lake City: "This isn't a blooper I had anything to do with, but it's an old journalism legend in Minnesota where I grew up. I think it actually happened, although I have never seen the headline in question, and can't recall which paper it supposedly ran in. The story involved an automobile accident in rural Minnesota, where there happen to be two towns named Fertile, MN and Climax, MN. The headline: 'FERTILE COUPLE DIES NEAR CLIMAX.' I hope someone can verify the authenticity of this wonderful legend. My other favorite head was reprinted in Columbia Journalism Review many years ago. It seems to me it ran originally in a paper in Richmond, VA, and it involved a shooting at an extravagantly named trailer park: 'MAN SHOT IN CAVALIER MANOR.'"

    JAMES TARANTO, The Wall Street Journal: "Proof that plain English is preferable to psychobabble: When I was working on my college paper, the Cal State Northridge Daily Sundial, a fellow reporter ran a classified ad in the paper soliciting anonymous sources for an article she was writing. It began: 'Anyone wishing to share a date rape experience on a confidential basis, please call . . .'"

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