This month marks our seventh year of publishing our community newspaper. Given that we have made only minor mistakes in those years, I would have to call this enterprise a lucky one – so far.
Of course, there have been some close ones.
In one of my first columns back in 1995, I was clumsily trying to thank a former girlfriend with whom I had just broken up for all the help she had provided me in starting up the newspaper. Unfortunately, my thanks were expressed a little too eloquently and – in combination with heavy use of the past tense – many of my readers thought she had died. I had to correct that in the next edition, which was a painfully long month later.
We’ve always taken pride in “family-safe” newspaper. Because we deliver to so many homes, we feel we have to be careful not to include information that might be offensive to children. One story about businesses on Lindbergh referred to the “golf club” at the end of the street. Our crackerjack editors proofed every story several times before we went to press. I looked over that issue right before it went out the door and thought for a moment about the golf club. I wasn’t aware of a golf club on Lindbergh, but before I could do anything about it, my phone rang and I forgot about the reference. It was only after a few readers called asking about it that our team discussed the story and we realized the writer meant to say Gold Club. “Oh well,” we said. “Just another effort on our part to protect our readers from sex, politics and crime.”
A couple of years ago, I wrote a column about dating that my ever-vigilant editor vetoed. “If this ran, you’d never date again!” she said. Another time, she corrected a reference to my ex-wife that forgot to mention the “ex” part. Thanks to Jan for protecting my single status.
None of these were as serious as the time I worked at The Greenville News in South Carolina and we published a full-page ad for a grocery store that had a sale on “Chicken Things” rather than thighs. As one of the press room guys said later, “I’ve eaten many part of a chicken, but I have never and will never eat that part!”
One time in Charlotte, the The Observer newsroom ran a story about a city councilman named James Brown. Late at night, one of the younger editors went to grab a photo of the Caucasian gentleman, but instead grabbed and published a photo of the King of Soul with his resplendent huge grin and big hair looking out from a serious story about local sewer repairs.
But the worst mistake I witnessed was in Augusta at The Chronicle, when we ran the obituary of Nelson S. Jackson, but a late-night copy editor ran the photo of Nelson T. Jackson instead. Nelson T., it turned out, was very alive and well, and also a member of our then-editor’s Rotary Club. The editor quietly took his usual seat at that week’s Rotary Club and endured many embarrassing remarks. But he was most annoyed when Nelson T. walked into the Rotary late and the entire club stood and raised their hands and greeted him with shouts of “Lazarus, Lazarus!”
When I first joined the Greenville, Mississippi newspaper and was looking forward to my first by-line in that afternoon’s edition, a fire suddenly broke out in the press room and the paper didn’t get published for two days. The publisher looked suspiciously at me, the newest and most questionable hire. Years later at the Fulton County Daily Report, my first day on the job led to several computer crashes that pushed us way past deadline by several hours. My college-age designer sidled up to me in a particularly tense moment and tried to reassure me.
“It could be worse, Chris,” he said. “Oh yeah, how?” I asked.
“We could be naked and on fire!”
I wasn’t reassured, but I did laugh. After nearly 25 years in the business and seven years “on our own,” here at Schroder Publishing, I am happy to report that we can still laugh. Even in these serious times.