The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 6, 2013

Despite best efforts, humorous errors find way into paper

Point Blank by John Blankenship

— A newspaper is a marvel, even a miracle to some people.

There are about 1,730 of them published daily in the United States with a combined circulation of nearly 62 million.

Limitless possibilities exist for error, human and mechanical.

Add the crushing pressure of deadlines and it is surprising there aren’t even more mistakes.

Needless to say, I’ve made practically every kind of mistake that can be made in print, especially during my years as a journeyman writer with small newspapers.

On one occasion, when I was taking an obituary over the phone, the funeral director told me that arrangements were incomplete for a deceased gentleman at his funeral parlor.

I took down the information in longhand, before I learned the advantages of taking notes on the typewriter, and didn’t write the obit until the next day.

Somehow, probably due to my poor handwriting, I transcribed the notes to read: financial arrangements are incomplete at the funeral home.

Luckily, the desk man caught the mistake. He didn’t fire me outright, probably because he knew I was just starting out in the newspaper trade.

Nevertheless, he admonished me severely, saying that it could have cost him his job if the error had gotten past him and gone to press. I quickly learned the difference between financial and funeral arrangements for future references.

But that wasn’t the only faux pas I committed during my initiation period as a newspaperman.

In the course of writing another obit, I apparently had typed a.m. instead of p.m. in the section that told when friends were welcome to call on family members. I had written that friends may call at the funeral home Sunday after 3 a.m.

I probably wouldn’t have learned of the mistake had I not strolled into the town’s recreation lounge after work.

Some local funeral directors in their customary black attire were shooting a friendly game of billiards as I started through the swinging doors.

“I’d just like to get my hands on that idiot who wrote that friends may call at the funeral home on Sunday from 3 a.m. until 5 a.m.,” the gentleman blurted. “I’ve been in the funeral business for 40 years and I’ve never laid out a corpse at 3 a.m.”

I nearly laughed out loud. Surely that wasn’t me. How dumb, I thought.

Still, I didn’t enter the pool hall. Instead, I shot out the front door and ran up the street to the newspaper office. I pulled out the Saturday edition and looked for the obit. It was mine. I didn’t return to the local billiards parlor until several weeks later.

Some of the goofs committed by this writer, however, were not entirely my fault. Readers frequently sent in shorts, briefs, notices and other correspondence that was barely legible. But when the slip-ups popped up on the printed page, the editors would scurry to print corrections.

I remember a few in particular. A certain individual (his name escapes me probably for good reason) had sent in a brief notice that he and his wife, both avid shotgun buffs, were planning to entertain some trap shooters during a party at their home on Saturday.

I don’t know how it happened, but it came out in the paper as “planning to entertain some crap shooters” at their domicile in the city.

You can imagine how furious the couple was when a deluge of uninvited riffraff started pouring in from all over town.

On the following Monday morning, my editor told me to vacate the premises via the backdoor until the man cooled off and put away his firearm.

Soon after that miscue, I left for college to study journalism before plunging myself into the profession again.

Over the years, though, I’ve kept an eye out for similar misprints and humorous headlines. Here are a few of my favorites:

- Man with 8 DUIs blames drinking problem

- City unsure why sewer smells

- Students cook and serve grandparents

- Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25

- Rangers get whiff of Colon

- Miracle cure kills fifth patient

- Total lunar eclipse will be broadcast on Public Radio

- Meeting on open meetings closed

- Man accused of killing lawyer receives a new attorney

- Homicide victims rarely talk to police

- Hospitals resort to hiring doctors

- Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum

- Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons

- Headless body found in topless bar

- Homeless man under house arrest

- One-arm man applauds kindness of strangers

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a reporter for The Register-Herald.