The flippant side of me always goes to former Yankee great, and maybe a better philosopher, Yogi Berra.
“We made too many wrong mistakes,” he once said.
But then I’m dragged back to reality with the column former Des Moines Register editor Dennis Ryerson wrote about the recent string of errors in his newspaper at the time. Years after he wrote that, I tracked him down in Indianapolis and someone on his staff found that column and sent me a copy.
Last week was National Newspaper Week and we really didn’t acknowledge it. Seems kind of strange for an entity to not toot its own horn during the week it’s supposed to play its horn loud and long.
But that was a little intentional on my part. Like with most of those weeks or days when something is put on the pedestal, it’s more than likely an after thought the next day and remembered the next time it comes around. I like to think every entity or industry would continue to promote themselves year round, including newspapers.
If you are doing memorable work regularly, you won’t be forgotten. You don’t really a need a day or week for self promotion.
If you are doing not-so-great work, you will be noticed too. After it reached a certain point, Ryerson dedicated his column space one day to explain, apologize and reaffirm his readers his staff is genuinely doing their best to provide the best content possible. I want to say the same thing about us here in the newsroom at the Creston News Advertiser, Osceola Sentinel-Tribune and the Adair County papers in Greenfield and for Fontanelle.
Years ago I found a copy of the book “Regret the Error,” a historical look at the mistakes newspapers have made including reasons why they may happen and how they could be prevented. It’s an excellent read. In fact, the last person I lent the book too has not returned it. I don’t know where it’s at.
Probably the most famous newspaper mistake was when the Chicago Daily Tribune had Dewey defeating Truman for the 1948 presidential election. The paper was for the morning after Election Day. The paper went to press before the vote counting was over and the paper used its sources to determine who would win so they would know what to put on its front page. That, obviously, was wrong.
But what doesn’t get the attention is there were several more mistakes in that paper. Chicago newspaper employees were on strike over legislation meaning papers were short staffed but working as fast as they could to get the paper done when it’s supposed to be done. When that happens, no matter what you’re doing, mistakes are bound to happen. We can relate to that.
Mistakes have consequences. You lose trust with readers. You become the punchline of jokes. You lose credibility. I will never say the CNA will be a perfect paper. According to some studies in the book, readers respect when a paper’s acknowledges its mistakes and explains the correction. We have done that, probably not enough to meet everyone’s wants, but we do. You can’t make everyone happy all the time.
Since much more media has been created since that book’s release, I’d like to know that survey’s results today.
The last 10 years has shown the changes, and not for the good, print news has faced. Everything in online. People buy stuff online. People advertise stuff online. People meet and interact with people they meet online. The world continues to grow its massive addiction to the computer, which is not all for the good either. Robbing businesses used to happen in the brick-and-mortar building. Now, that’s not always necessary because of cyberattacks.
I’ve known people who sell ads for newspapers tell their longstanding, well known accounts of the newest promotion they should be in. But the store backs off and uses the phrase, “People don’t read papers as much as they used to,” the store managers say. The ad sales person will offer a great deal for the ad if the business puts in an even more ridiculous offer on one of their products. The store usually backs off claiming, “Someone will read that and think it’s true.” So print news still has value.
It’s neat to see how newspapers have been used over the years. It’s a little scary to think what it will be like 50 years from now. Documentaries show the subject’s related newspaper headlines.
In the same titled movie, Mrs. Doubtfire’s name was created from headlines. Marty McFly from “Back to the Future” needed a newspaper to confirm he time traveled to 1955. There’s many more.
And there are more good things to come from the CNA. Thank you for your support.