My newspaper students worry solicitously that I will be upset by this. I never am. This kind of attention means people are reading our paper, carefully. It means our readers care about our product. Errors are the inevitable result of our breakneck news cycle. No other high school paper in our large county (26 high schools) comes out even as close to as often as we do. Doing it fast means we will make mistakes. But news happens fast and I’m willing to sacrifice perfect for fast.
And no one will ever be harder on us than we are on ourselves.
The newspaper operates on a 10-day production cycle. Each day in the cycle has a number. Day 1, the most important day in our cycle, is called Post Mortem. It’s Day 1 because it’s where we always begin. Post Mortem is one of the two days in the cycle where we meet all together (the other is story meeting day). Each member of the newspaper comes in with a completed form about the paper that came out the day before, and then we spend the entire period going through every page, pointing out every error, applauding every strength and finally, vowing to try harder next time. This process is lead by the editors-in-chief. I sit in the back and try my best to keep my mouth shut. Being accountable to each other is more valuable than anything I could add. I comment A LOT on work in progress, but after it’s done, I try not to.
The most recent issue (November 11, 2014) had the usual smattering of errors, some minor, some inexcusable. Here are 10 discussion points from our Post Mortem.
1. Page 1 had this headline: Quarter end brings woes; Students, teachers clash on policies. A reader had told an editor that the ‘s’ following the semi-colon should not be capitalized. In fact, it should. When what follows the semi-colon is a full sentence on its own, it should be capitalized, according to AP style. Our readers are frequently wrong in their criticism.
2. Page 2 had this headline: Gongaza teen killed in car accident. In the text of the article the school name was spelled like wrong, twice: Gozonga and Gonzoga. Inexcusable.
3. A photo credit said this: Photo by Jake Feldman. Jake Feldman was IN the photo. It should have read: Photo courtesy Jake Feldman.
4. An article about the English Honor Society was credited to Myles Romm instead of Intro to Journalism student Jordan Stern. No readers other than Jordan and Myles would notice this error, but it’s about as bad a mistake as we could make.
5. An article about homecoming headline said "juniors win with St. Patrick’s Day theme". It was Thanksgiving, and was clearly stated in the body text. This kind of factual error in excusable and the fault of the page editor.
6. The same photo was used on pages 5 and 6. Different sections, different editors, poor communication.
7. Page 7 – two articles with body text wrong point size, one article not text justified, one byline with the wrong position title, a student name spelled wrong in man-on-street mugs. This was a case of a page editor rushing. Extra eyes are on him for next issue.
8. In a feature page quote roundup about Marking Period 1 we used an anonymous quote that reflects poorly on the school. I don’t mind the quote but we shouldn’t use anonymous sources.
9. A sports kicker said this: Boys soccer. There needs to be an apostrophe after the ‘s’ in boys. It’s a minor detail, but an important one because it shows sloppy editing.
10. Page 16 was full of all kinds of errors – three errors in captions (a plaque was called a trophy, preparation was spelled wrong, putt (a golf term) was spelled with only one t), a byline was spelled wrong, both headlines start with same word (team), both photos were not cropped well. Again, the blame here falls squarely on the page editor who failed to enter edits from the editors-in-chief and me.
I haven’t listed ANY of the many, many things we did right in this issue. That’s a post for another day.
While it is always painful to review errors, I love Post Mortem. I love the seriousness of purpose in my staff. I love their attention to detail. I love how they praise each other for what they do well. I love their commitment to try again, to do better, to push themselves harder. Anyone who says today’s teenagers are lazy and don’t care needs to sit in on our Post Mortem.