The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 3, 2013

Vos: Newspaper’s mistakes not so funny

By Kathy Vos
The Free Press

— At least 50 callers by 8:30 Wednesday morning didn’t think it was very funny that the comics page was missing from the day’s Free Press.

From the mom who said her 10-year-old son would have comic withdrawals without his daily dose to the really irritated woman who said that it was “Just STUPID” that we didn’t publish the page, it was clear the comics/puzzle page starts a lot of people’s day.

The puzzling thing about The Free Press’ mistake is that some people called with the attitude that we pulled the page on purpose. Times may be tough in the newspaper world, but killing comics is not on the cost-cutting table yet. Too much like sentencing ourselves to death. We promptly posted the comics on our website and made room in Thursday’s paper for two comics pages.

It was also obvious that some people knew we just messed up but wanted to rub our noses in it. One caller thought it was  “soooooo funny” that we’d forgotten the comics.

I don’t mean to be defensive here. But when we make mistakes, like everyone does in every occupation, it’s on 20,000 copies of newsprint. That’s just the way it is. We apologize, square our shoulders, and try to do better tomorrow. At least we don’t send people home with scars from an attempt to take out a kidney stone that was in the other kidney. (True story for one of my nephews.)

As other editors tried to track down why the comics page ball was dropped and who dropped it, I was relieved that I don’t have anything to do with the comics page. I already have my fill of other newspaper mess-ups that I either personally made or as an editor didn’t catch when I should have.

During my first job as an early twentysomething copy editor, I was told one day that there was no markets/stock page. No problem, I thought. The next day, I got called into the editor’s office and asked why there were no stocks or markets listings in the paper.

“Because there was no markets page,” I said.

Wrong answer.

Back then, before they invented that super-fast information highway called The Net, newspapers always published lots of stocks listings. No matter what. You found space, even if you had to yank out — brace yourselves — comic strips or part of a sports page. (In fact, those print edition listings are still important to our readers, and thanks to the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation, we just added three pages of stocks and mutual fund listings to the Saturday edition.)

I used to have a grumpy-old-man neighbor who would call me over to his yard where he had two lawn chairs conveniently stationed. After I plopped down next to him, he’d hit me with what I naively thought was a straightforward question. “So, what day is it?”

I’d answer quickly, falling into his trap. “Monday, wh ...?”

He’d cut me off: “Not according to your paper.”

He’d found an inside page with the wrong day listed in small print on top.

Another time he asked me what direction a Mankato hilltop road ran. After living next to him a few years, I knew what he was getting at. “Which accident report did we mess up?”

I didn’t mind those neighborly newspaper critiques. I was happy to have such a dedicated reader nearby — plus I got past his crusty exterior and he usually fed me pie or freshly picked apples. He didn’t just complain about mistakes; he filled me in on the history of North Mankato, told me who was who in town, and had the perspective of knowing how things had changed in the area over the years. He died a couple of years ago and I still miss him, even his goading about the latest mistakes in the paper.

He would have enjoyed pointing out Wednesday’s comics omission. But lucky for The Free Press, there are lots of other dedicated readers out there who care enough to get upset when we mess up. And like our staff, most don’t think most mistakes are much of a laughing matter. Unless it’s the one where outdoors writer/photographer John Cross changed Stu McKee’s name to Stub McCoy during a clumsy spellcheck encounter. Even Stu/Stub got a kick out of that one.

Kathy Vos is the Free Press day news editor. She can be reached at kvos@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6357.