Newspaper work can be quite humbling. Hollywood, as only Hollywood can do, emphasizes the rare moments of glory, of scruffy reporters in rolled-up sleeves saving democracy. Saving democracy is not an everyday thing in this business, just as surgeons are far more likely to spend their days removing gallstones as they are to be fixing aortic ruptures.
But it’s not the interminable public meetings we sit through — sewer easement hearings, anyone? — or accumulating all of the minutiae of a community’s life that casts our feet in clay.
Unlike most professions, newspapers lay their mistakes out there for all to see. If ever you think a little too much of yourself in this business, realize you’re only as good as your next misspelled headline or wrong crossword puzzle.
We all goof up at work. Auditors discover bank errors, grocery store employees mismark sale items, the lawyer misses a key point and loses an argument or a case. It happens. If you’re a close reader of this paper, you know it happens more often than not.
Most of the time, our errors are minor and simple sins of spelling or grammar. As much as we read, write and edit in a week for the paper, the website and our various email newsletters, we’re always going to have some margin of error. Anyone who has run a business that makes something will tell you you’re going to have plenty of flaws and “seconds.” With a little diligence and a lot of luck, they don’t make it out the warehouse door.
So while I accept we’re going to have a dropped word or a misspelling or a muffed headline at times, each flaw still eats at me when I see it in print. One time we had two different scores in a story for a football game — and both were wrong! I hate that our haste shows, but I accept it’s going to happen. Call it proof of life: no robots or algorithms here.
Mistakes happen, despite our best efforts. But what really drives me nuts — because it drives you nuts — are the unforced errors, the mistakes we repeat even though we know the weak spots to check for. Chief among these maddening mistakes is when we screw up the puzzles.
If you do not work a crossword, Jumble or Sudoku puzzle with any regularity, this is not a big deal for you. But if you are a bridge player, this would be equal to running the results from three weeks ago. Or on the Wednesday after the election, we’d have the wrong results. Come to think of it, I think we’ve done that, too.
The puzzles error comes to mind because it has happened a couple times recently, including this past week. Addressing this with folks is how I spent these last few days. People even stopped by the office to complain the puzzles were wrong.
Our puzzles come to us in an electronic database from syndication providers. We usually get a large batch — weeks or months at a time. In the past, we would create puzzle pages well out into the future and put the puzzles on. We’ve been doing that less lately. For instance, the Cryptoquote and Jumble are only scheduled out to Jan. 9. The crossword is yet to be parceled out.
When we build the puzzle pages and drag in the puzzles, we are — occasionally, not regularly — losing track and dragging in a previous puzzle. Or, as one reader said the other day, “I thought this was really easy because I knew all the answers. I didn’t think I was that smart.”
This goes without saying, but I will anyway: We are deeply sorry and regret this mistake. It is the equivalent of stubbing your toe in the church pew and accidentally letting everyone around you know just how florid your vocabulary can be. Our faces can’t get more red. When it happens, we usually make up for it by doubling up on puzzles to “catch up.”
Be assured that this pains us far more than you. We all strive for the best possible newspaper we can produce every single time. But this is a humbling business, in which you’re only as good as your last correct crossword puzzle.