A powerful, concise headline is crucial to grabbing readers’ attention—unless you forget to publish one entirely.
Such was the case in Wednesday’s front page of Cambridge News, a local newspaper in the United Kingdom:
Hope you’re having a better day than the production editor of the Cambridge News pic.twitter.com/wmCp6ZL5fE
— James Herring (@itsjamesherring) December 6, 2017
Instead of a headline, the design instructions were published—in 100-point font.
Twitter users had a field day poking fun at the proofreading mishap:
— Gareth Marlow (@GarethMarlow) December 6, 2017
Wow. It’s real. This’ll be featured in newspaper sub-editing courses for years. And available at all good newsagents near you today, folks. pic.twitter.com/JS8YpuedVW
— Chris Rand (@ChrisRandWrites) December 6, 2017
— Keith Ed48ns (@keithedkins) December 6, 2017
BBC News also sniped at the error in a write up on its website:
— Rebekah Chilvers (@RebekahChilvers) December 6, 2017
In an apology to readers, Cambridge News wrote:
The headline should have read ‘£2m for ‘sex lair’ school’ in reference to a story printed on page 11 of today’s newspaper.
Cambridgeshire County Council has given the cash to Sawtry Village Academy to help with repairs after former principal James Stewart spent funds on holidays and making a ‘sex lair’ on the premises.
We would like to apologise sincerely for the technical problem that caused the main headline to not appear on the Cambridge edition, although the correct one was printed on the Cambourne News
— Cambridge News (@CambridgeNewsUK) December 6, 2017
The publication’s editor-in-chief, David Bartlett, also tweeted an apology:
I would like to apologise to all readers of the Cambridge News for the error on today’s front page https://t.co/RXvuih151d
— david bartlett (@davidbartlett1) December 6, 2017
Some pointed out that the blunder gave the Cambridge News more publicity:
Reading it in New Zealand so probably your most widely read front page ever on the bright side!
— Rhonda Thompson (@tamsin77) December 6, 2017
On the plus side it is the most coverage you will ever get of a local newspaper
— Chris Smyth (@ChrisDSmyth) December 6, 2017
We’ve all done this and it has turned out to be great publicity for you!
— The Golf Business (@thegolfbusiness) December 6, 2017
Other journalists pitched in with their own tales of editing woes:
There but for the grace of God go all of us in journalism. (I once managed to kill off someone who was very much alive – and furious).
— Alison Gow (@alisongow) December 6, 2017
We’ve all done it. One day it will be one of your most entertaining party anecdotes
— Martin Belam (@MartinBelam) December 6, 2017
I once published a ‘Silver Jublilee’ issue of an internal newspaper. The kind printers reprinted it for us!
— Andrew Arnold (@Andrew_Arnold) December 6, 2017
I once wrote that speedway bikes have no breaks. The stadium owner quickly corrected that there was one to go to the bar! 😉
— David Crane 📝 (@D_Crane1) December 6, 2017
The gaffe shows that mistakes happen, which can be a comforting fact to any communicator who has published an erroneous tweet or didn’t proofread a press release carefully.
It also proves that how you respond to a mistake can win plaudits.
McDonald’s also provided PR and marketing pros with an example of a proofreading error getting wide distribution. Its social media team sent a Black Friday tweet from its corporate brand handle that was improperly prepared:
Black Friday **** Need copy and link****
— McDonald’s (@McDonaldsCorp) November 24, 2017
After the mistake went viral, McDonald’s kept the tweet—and poked fun at itself, which further earned praise:
When you tweet before your first cup of McCafé… Nothing comes before coffee. pic.twitter.com/aPJ2ZupS9b
— McDonald’s (@McDonaldsCorp) November 24, 2017
That’s not to say that PR and marketing pros shouldn’t put an emphasis on proofreading, however. You should also be mindful of how little time overworked media professionals have for proofreading.
Cambridge News’ mistake, though funny, also shows the unfortunate effects of shrinking newsrooms and overworked journalists.
Independent reporter Lizzie Dearden tweeted:
The Cambridge News front page might be funny but there’s a serious story behind it. Publishers have been cutting designers, sub-editors and journalists for years and many are forcing trainees to work to templates.
So instead of ridiculing local papers, why not buy one to help?
— Lizzie Dearden (@lizziedearden) December 6, 2017
BBC News reporter Alice Hutton, who worked at Cambridge News from 2010 to 2012, tweeted that the cuts to the design team followed “the sacking of nearly all the subs several years ago as the paper bounced between three different owners since 2012- each chewing off another limb.”
She said: “You may think this error is funny (and who doesn’t look a good subbing error?) but in this case you are laughing at the dismantling of local democracy, the ability to fight for communities and the loss of dozens of livelihoods.
“The reporters who still work there now (and there aren’t many) work incredibly hard in a newsroom so empty of journalists, subs and sales staff that they have all moved on to a single floor. They break exclusives, hold power to account and lay out their own work and headlines.”
What are your tricks for avoiding proofreading gaffes, Ragan/PR Daily readers?