Community Journalism, Proofing, Writing

Unlikely tree dwellers and other sad tales

It was a Friday, and it was late.

It was a Friday, it was late, and it was my last story.

It was a Friday, it was late, it was my last story. And it was about an owl.

Those aren’t excuses, I know.

I’d covered a presentation from the Knoxville Zoo at a library. The zookeeper brought an owl and talked about local wildlife while the owl sat there and squinted at the gathered throng.

Back at the office, I was less than enthused about this one. It was just something to get through before I could go home. I plowed into the story, finding nifty quotes, picking the best photo, and finally got near the end, the part in which the zookeeper said the owl has more bones in its neck than a giraffe. Nifty fact! It goes in!

Right then, I got called away from my desk, came back frustrated, stuck the last line on the owl story, and sent it to proofing.

Fast-forward to Monday. I came strolling into my office and there, on my desk, was a tiny Christmas tree. Perched atop the tree was a Beanie Baby giraffe, and tucked into the branches was a card from Shopper-News proofreader extraordinaire Judy.

The card informed me that I had come near to making Judy spew Diet Coke all over her keyboard. While called away from my desk, I’d lost touch with the fact that I’d just mentioned a giraffe and ended up with this gem:

Smith said the owl has more bones in its neck than a giraffe.

And there may be one in a tree near you!

I still have the giraffe. It sits atop my monitor to remind me to proofread. Thank God for Judy. She and others like her have saved me from public mockery more often than I’d like to admit.

In the newspaper industry, or any deadline-driven business, it’s hard to take your time. And sometimes you’ve been looking at the words so long that you stop seeing them. Mayhem happens, but good proofing can help. A fresh set of eyes helps.

That’s how Judy got her job. The Halls Crossroads Christmas Parade grand marshal that year was a Mr. Hooker. On Monday, the Shopper came out with his photo and “HOOKER LEADS PARADE” in war font on the front page. Judy saw it, laughed out loud, and called the Shopper offering her services.

So, harken to my words. Proofreading won’t always save you, but it will save you enough. Do it, and do it carefully. Keep those giraffes out of your trees.

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