One season of the HBO series "The Wire" includes a storyline based, albeit fictitiously, on the lives of the newsroom staff at the Baltimore Sun.
In one scene, an editor wakes up in the middle of the night in a panic. The audience struggles to understand why he's in such a fret, but the editor sheds light on his worries when he sprints to his phone and calls the newspaper office.
On the other end of the call, a copy editor answers. The main editor asks him to track down a page set to print in the next day's edition, and tells him to check the wording of one sentence in the middle of one story on the page. Satisfied that the story is correct, the editor attempts to return to his slumber.
The writers of the show obviously consulted with journalists when plotting the season, as such a random act of panic occurs frequently for those of us who take pride in accuracy and can't sleep if we know something may be wrong. It truly is a feeling of despair when you believe something that's been printed, or is set to print, isn't accurate.
Such a feeling of panic came over me Tuesday afternoon when we began fielding multiple phone calls from the public about trick-or-treat hours in Barren County. According to callers, we'd published an article stating the hours had been changed, and they wanted to know if it was true or just a misprint.
Journalists like to pride ourselves on producing quality news that protects the public, shapes policy and informs our readers, but let us not forget some basics to the trade:
- Never mess up an obituary.
- Do not misspell a kid's name in a sports story unless you like speaking on the phone with just about every member of their family.
- And never, absolutely never, print the wrong times for trick-or-treating.
So here I was, frantically scrambling to figure out if we'd committed one of these cardinal sins. I had visions of youngsters, decked out in their spooky little costumes, sadly knocking on doors to no avail because the evil Glasgow Daily Times had misprinted trick-or-treating hours.
I was prepared to write my response to President Donald Trump, who would undoubtedly tweet that the Daily Times was another example of Fake News. Our crime was far greater than accusing the president of being a Russian agent — we'd cost children their chance at free candy. As someone who loves candy more than life itself, I knew it would be too great a mistake to overcome. No apology would suffice. We would have to cease our printing operations immediately.
"But wait just a minute," I said to myself after the fourth or fifth phone call. I knew I had read our story on trick-or-treating multiple times before it published. Unless my eyesight was failing faster than that of an NFL referee's, I did not recall reading anything about trick-or-treating hours being moved. The weather outlook wasn't good for Halloween, but we hadn't received any word from the powers that be (whose main job is to set trick-or-treat hours) that the official Halloween observance had been rescheduled.
I read the story again. I still didn't see an error. Then there was another phone call, and then another, and then another, and I started to feel like I was the victim of a prank.
But after what must have been a dozen phone calls in 15 minutes, we discovered the reason for the confusion. One of the callers sent us a photo of the article that was being circulated on social media. It was our story, and it did in fact say that trick-or-treat times had been moved, but it was from 2018.
While I was relieved we didn't commit an unforgivable error, I started thinking about another scenario. In this one, I could see some poor person trying to figure out if trick-or-treat times had been changed. They searched online, and our article popped up. They didn't think to check the date, and they posted it on their Facebook page. It was too late to take it back — all Hell had been unleashed.
Hopefully, everyone can now enjoy a laugh about the situation.
One lesson we can all learn from this episode is to make sure we double-check the dates of articles before we post them on social media. Also, realize that social media isn't necessarily the best source of information. We need to take it a step further and make sure what we read is timely and truthful. Thankfully, you have a hometown newspaper that places accuracy at the highest level of importance.
Have a safe and happy Halloween.
Suddeath is the editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. His column appears in the Thursday edition of the Daily Times and at various times throughout the week. Reach him at 270-678-5171, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.