One Letter Matters
When you’re putting out a paper seven days a week, corners sometimes get cut. That happened during one of my scariest moments – for me personally, not like a dangerous time – during my six years in the newsroom at 135 Baltimore Street.
I don’t remember all the details, but I know I was working a Sunday night layout shift in sports. This meant I worked (in theory) from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Because of the way things went down, I am pretty sure I didn’t work a full eight hour shift, which was not uncommon for that Sunday shift. You always worked more than 40 hours anyway so if you could get done in five or six or something like that on one day, it didn’t really matter.
I loved this shift. Nothing local was happening so you really just had to figure out what national sports news would play best, take care of all the little details and lay out the pages. It was as stress-free as doing pages got.
I know I didn’t stay until 6 a.m. because I left before the morning news shift arrived. The first person usually came in somewhere between 4 and 5, if I recall correctly. Since I worked alone most of the night, that person was supposed to do a quick check of my pages to make sure nothing was wrong with them. The folks preparing the pages for the printing press were supposed to do the same.
None of that explanation is absolving me from any blame. As you will see, I messed up. It theoretically could have been caught though. Either those folks didn’t do those things or they missed it. I don’t think I ever asked.
One of the things that always went into the Monday sports section was a roundup of the professional golf results from the weekend. People love golf in the area. Not as much as racing, which usually got top billing, but we knew we had to get golf in. Some golfer – I want to say Greg Norman, but I could be wrong – won a tournament that weekend so I made that my golf headline. I also included the margin of victory. You know, how many shots he won by?
Except I didn’t type shots. I thought I did, but the ‘o’ and ‘i’ are next to each other on the keyboard. See where I’m going?
I came in the next day in the early afternoon because I had to work a normal shift that night. Stan Hough, my editor, called me into his office. He did not look happy. I scanned my brain for what I may have done wrong. Nothing popped in my head. He told me to sit down and then dropped a copy of the paper, folded open to the golf story, onto his desk.
There is was: Norman wins by three shits (or something like that, but the word shit was in the headline)
I was mortified. I just assumed I was fired. I didn’t know how it happened. I was furious no one looked at my pages. Or missed that. Or that I missed it. I wasn’t rushed. I wasn’t up against deadline. I just had an easy night and wanted to leave. That’s when Stan said the three most beautiful words I have ever heard.
“You owe me.”
Stan liked to grab papers as they came off the press to take a look at how things turned out. That morning, my headline happened to catch his eye and he got to have a real “Stop the presses!” moment. He called up to the newsroom, someone fixed my page, and new versions of the paper without any obscenities in the headline hit the street.
And I got to keep my job.