Editor's Views: Wrong page prompts headscratching, thorough review
“What in the world is going on up there. Doesn't anyone proofread the paper?”
This one hurt. And I don't just mean the anonymous letter that started with the comments above and ended with “Clean up your act … C'mon man!”
I'm referring to the mistake that prompted the letter. It ruined my Sunday morning golf game—as if I couldn't do that myself. More significantly, it damaged The Gazette's credibility.
In case you didn't see or haven't heard of the gaffe, we published the wrong Page 3B in the April 13 paper. Instead of a page with timely sports content, we reprinted the 3B from April 2.
That's a big mistake, and a new one. As I've written before, the opportunity for error is huge in this business, and we've made most of them at least once. Until last Sunday, though, we'd never printed an old page.
I was on the second tee at Glen Erin when I got the word. My wife called after a frantic employee at our downtown office tried to reach me at home. “The wrong page?” I said to her. “How could that happen?”
At that point, there wasn't much I could do. The papers were printed and delivered. We couldn't pull them back or fix them remotely. Our workers told the dozens of callers that we'd do our best to publish the missing content in the next day's paper. I had a little time to figure that out. So I teed off and proceeded to have a lousy round of golf. I blame the bad news.
How did it happen? It's more complicated than a faulty proofreader.
As we always have, we write and edit stories and put together pages at our office downtown. When we're done with the pages, we send them digitally to our printing and production plant on Wuthering Hills Drive about four miles away. There, the press crew converts those digital pages into plates that go onto the press.
The process requires page designers downtown to go into a computer file, select the pages and send them to the plant. Old pages typically are killed out of the computer queue. Because a key editor was on vacation, that didn't happen. A hurried sports designer grabbed the wrong 3B from the crowded queue, and off it went to Wuthering Hills.
Interestingly, someone quickly recognized the mistake. The designer then sent the right page and called the plant to alert the crew that a new version was coming. Unfortunately, the wrong page still ended up on the press. As I said before, ouch!
The calls came early and often Sunday from people who were confused, angry or both. We did our best to make up for the mistake by publishing the missed content Monday, but that did little to satisfy our most enraged customers.
“It's as if the Gazette doesn't care about its subscribers,” the sender of the anonymous letter wrote.
To the contrary, we couldn't care more. Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent people from making mistakes, as much as I wish it could.
Until 2007, when our printing and production plant opened with a state-of-the-art press and other advanced equipment, we printed the paper downtown, about 30 steps from the newsroom.
In those days, editors got the first papers off the press and quickly reviewed them. If they saw a serious problem, such as the one last Sunday, they'd rush back to the pressroom and yell, “stop the presses.” We'd quickly fix the mistake, and the presses would roll again.
We don't have that luxury anymore. The presses run, and the papers go out the door. The new system brought many advances that benefit our readers and us every day. But it took away one of our double-checks.
These aren't excuses, just explanations. We need to do better, and we spent considerable time in the past week reviewing procedures, adding safeguards and doing everything we could to ensure the same error doesn't happen again.
We'll never be perfect, but we'll keep trying. And we'll always care.
Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.