Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Some editing errors are worse, much worse, than others

Regret the error posted this very funny correction:

So right now there are at least three or four Free From Editors readers who are screaming, that sounds very much like the story of “Mrs. Bandit.”

Ah yes, Mrs. Bandit, a prime example of copy editing gone beserk.

Some years ago, I think this even pre-dates my arrival at the Flint Journal in 1989, but the story is legend. Well, it was legend until everyone who knew the story was swept out the door in the Great Buyout of 2007.

So here’s my chance to coattail onto the “bedwetter” story.

A fine reporter did a story on a motorcycle gang. One thing a street reporter learns very quickly is that motorcycle gang members guard their identity. After all, they have many natural enemies, many of whom wear badges and others who have marriage licenses with their names on it.

So the reporter identifies the gang member as “Bandit” his nickname. A woman with him was identified only vaguely, which was probably the way “Bandit” wanted it.

When the story was turned in for editing a persnickety editor decided that while “Bandit” was borderline acceptable for a news story, she couldn’t abide with the identification of Bandit’s female counterpart so she changed it to: “Mrs. Bandit” and sent it through for publication.

That brought an angry call from two people, “Bandit” who wanted to wrap a motorcycle handlebar around the reporter’s neck because he was not married to the woman, and the real “Mrs. Bandit” was not happy that another woman was married to her gang member.

So “Mrs. Bandit” has always been one of the benchmarks by which egregious editing errors are measured.

During my career I probably visited a half dozen motorcycle gang clubs following up on stories. As far as motorcycle gang members are concerned, reporters are just slightly higher on the “hate” list than police officers and bounty hunters.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the reporter that got the call about calling a motorcycle rider a “bedwetter.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jim, how's this:

I wrote an article once for a Texas military newspaper about a person on base who took part in some event in Florida. You know the monotony of always saying "Florida", so on second reference I would sometimes refer to Florida by its nickname, "The Sunshine State". Well, this editor nixes that and says, "We can't use 'The Sunshine State' because some people will confuse it with California."

I tell her, "How? Sunshine State is a very common nickname for Florida. Besides, isn't California's nickname The Golden State?"

What makes it even funnier is that this editor was FROM California!