It happens to even the best of us

  • There are four section editors of the Mustang Daily and each are responsible for the edits in their section
  • Each night there are two copy editors working
  • Copy editors make story edits in WordPress, then on the pages and back on WordPress again

Mistakes happen. Period. They’re not fun, the Mustang Daily doesn’t like them and they’re incredibly embarrassing. Unfortunately, in the chaos of putting the paper together and as journalists dig themselves from the mound of past editions, notes and old pizza, things are missed.

It’s one thing to miss a comma here and there but it’s on a whole different level to misspell a name or have a factual error in a story.

In the Jan. 23 edition of the Mustang Daily we printed a front page story about Cal Poly’s new president Jeffrey Armstrong and his decision to live in the University House on campus. The reporter had spent time on the article and she turned out a well-written piece that she could potentially use as a clip to send to future internship and employment seekers.

Also on the front page was a story about trash pile up at Einstein Bros. Bagels in Poly Canyon. We got the tip and the photo from a student who thought we might be interested. At the bottom of the story, the news editor had added a pull quote to make the story look more visually appealing. A pull quote is exactly how it sounds — a quote pulled from a story. Typically the quote is from a source who had something really interesting to say or that gets the focus of the story across in one quote. It is also a valuable tool for section editors who want to break up a block of text so the reader isn’t overwhelmed.

Managing editor Patrick Leiva looks over pages before the paper is sent to the printer. Leiva said that even though he wasn't happy about the mistakes in the paper, he was glad that the staff was receptive to the criticism and worked to improve the next day's edition. Photo by Leticia Rodriguez

Both stories were read multiple times and the pages were looked at by at least five people before the paper was sent to the printer. But on the paper the next day, Armstrong’s name was misspelled in a caption above the headline (which had his name in it) and there was a typo in the pull quote. Managing editor Patrick Leiva said he felt the mistakes came out of laziness and people’s desire to finish their job and get home.

“I wasn’t happy,” Leiva said. “The worst part of it was that a lot of it was easily correctable.”

I first noticed the mistakes during the Mustang Daily writing class when Mustang Daily adviser Brady Teufel talked about the problems with the class. He was right: as a result of our negligent mistakes, two students lost a writing clip. As the editor in chief and the person who gives the final approval to print on all editorial content in the Mustang Daily, I felt a huge weight of responsibility. But I wasn’t the only one.

The front page is news editor Kaytlyn Leslie’s responsibility. She’s in charge of designing it and making sure it is appropriate for the content in the news section of the paper. The day this particular issue was published, Leslie had a copy editing class with professor Teresa Allen. Incidentally, that was also the day Allen had her class critique the Mustang Daily. Needless to say, it was a rough class time for Leslie who said she felt the mistakes were her fault.

“I felt it was my fault because I was sick but then we (Allen’s class) spent the entire day ripping it to shreds,” Leslie said. “It wasn’t fun. You have to have a bad one every once in a while to realize you can’t have things slip past you. While it is a fun job, it’s still a job.”

Copy editor Margaret Pack said the mistakes and the threat of pay deduction was a wake up call for her to remain focused throughout the night. Photo by Leticia Rodriguez

That night, Leiva and myself called a staff meeting with all of the section editors and all of the copy editors. We needed to sit down and talk about the problem and what we were going to do to fix it. Our goal wasn’t to point fingers or make one person feel as though it’s their fault the mistakes weren’t caught. We merely wanted everyone to acknowledge the problem, see that we all had a hand in it and decide as a group what we could do to improve. Ideas were tossed out such as creating a checklist, making sure we stay focused as the night goes on and even the threat of pay deduction or termination if the problem persists.

Copy editor Margaret Pack said she was nervous when called to come into the meeting on her night off because she said she knew there would be repercussions.

“I was trying to think of any part of the night where I hadn’t given (the job) my full attention,” Pack said. “It was definitely a wake up call to know that I need to be giving it my 100 percent attention until I leave work. Anytime that happens, it reflects on all of us. If a future employer sees that, I lose credibility as well as the rest of the staff.”

But sometimes, all you can do is address the situation and move on. As it was, Leiva and I noticed how down on themselves everyone was. The section editors, the copy editors, Leiva and I all felt a certain amount of responsibility, large and small. But the staff realized immediately that dwelling on the situation wasn’t going to help any of us in the long run. Leiva and I wanted the staff to acknowledge the mistakes, realize that our threat to deduct pay or let people go was to be taken seriously and, most importantly, learn from the situation.

“I thought everyone took it upon themselves to know the mistakes weren’t acceptable,” Leiva said.

Leslie agreed and even though she initially thought the mistakes were entirely her fault, was glad that the entire staff took it upon themselves to work extra hard that night and from then on.

“Everyone on staff, the copy editors and the other editors, were willing to buckle down and make sure the paper was a lot better,” Leslie said. “We were very determined to make the paper a lot better the next day and it was.”

Working for the paper is a huge responsibility and even though we enjoy our job and work very hard to produce a paper that students, staff, faculty and administration at Cal Poly can be proud of, sometimes we mess up. But when that’s the case, we want to do what we can to fix it, so let us know. It’s the only way we’re going to learn.

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  1. […] well early on in the year that the only time this has really happened was the night we discovered inexcusable mistakes in the paper. De Los Santos, who is in his second year as sports editor said he enjoys the […]

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