When newspapers get it all wrong….

BECAUSE of the constant race against time, newspapers sometimes make embarrassing errors. With the best will in the world and in spite of the built-in checks and balances installed to safeguard against this type of thing, mistakes occur.

It takes only a single character misread by the proofreader or sub-editor in the hurly burly of newspaper production to change the entire meaning of an otherwise innocent paragraph or headline to cause howls of laughter or acute discomfort in the cold light of day.

Vividly I remember the time in 1957 when the British explorer and geologist Sir Vivian Fuchs, led the first overland crossing of the Antarctic via the South Pole.

At the time I was working for a Port Elizabeth newspaper. The front page headline across seven columns in capital letters, screamed “FUCHS OFF TO SOUTH POLE” and, of course as you’ve guessed by now, sod’s law saw to it that one vital character was wrong. If memory serves, about 2000 copies had hit the streets by the time the aghast chief sub-editor spotted the error!

Another famous blooper concerned the obituary of a distinguished army general which referred to him as a “battle scared veteran” of many campaigns. Of course, say that about a general and you can expect trouble.

The newspaper got it and published a would-be fulsome correction. This time they had the military leader as “bottle scarred”.

In similar vein, a newspaper referring to a detective who had performed a particularly heroic deed, called him “a defective in the police force”. Red-faced they made the correction “a detective in the police farce.”

I recall one however, which was fortunately saved in time. This was a story some years ago about a lady farmer. The report said she was the “grootste boer” in her area. Or it did after a squad of workers sat through the night changing the printed copies with pens because in the version which came off the press, the word “boer” had begun with an “h”.

When it comes to captions though, one of my favourites was under a picture showing the victorious lady owner of a major horse race leading the animal in. The writer, probably a junior reporter, obviously had it drilled into him to make sure captions identified exactly who was who in the photo. The horse therefore carried the tag (left) after its name.

There are many more examples of this type of newspaper faux pas but I thought these might amuse you this morning.


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