A cautionary tale from a small-town newspaper
August 18, 2017 11:32 AM   Subscribe

"The story of the most flagrant mistake in the modern history of sports journalism begins with a 21-year-old editor. His name is Kris Freeman." [Deadspin] [language NSFW]
posted by trillian (27 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
oh man, I read this the other day and a) laughed so hard my stomach hurt then b) had a terrible, crushing sensation familiar from experiencing my own mistakes at work and having to apologize and fix them. (Once, when I was in college, I sent general cover letters and resumes to newspapers looking for work -- with a copy error in the cover letter. I physically writhed on the floor from shame.) None of my mistakes were supposed to be funny, much less rampantly homophobic at the expense of some kid I'd never even met, but the pain can still be felt. The human cost of wacky news articles is rarely explored, and I appreciate this writeup.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

I spent a couple years working at small town newspapers and I really hate how people pile on whenever they find some little mistake that....

Oh, oh dear god.
posted by not_the_water at 11:43 AM on August 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

The basic story of a joke mistakenly not getting caught is sort of funny. And then there's the content of the joke. Or as the quote in the article notes, “I can’t overstate the impact of the insinuation of homosexuality”. Everyone reading this knew the bits about bestiality and poor rectal hygeine were just jokes. But insinuating homosexuality, man, that's the worst.
posted by Nelson at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yeah, from what I have observed of intra-dude blue humor in a red state, suggesting somebody is gay is both an insult and paradoxically also a bonding mechanism if you are friends. (Which it seems Nick was, with Garrett -- I misremembered the reading.)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a totally sports-inert person I really didn't expect to find that article interesting enough to read all the way to the end, but it was captivating.
posted by XMLicious at 12:21 PM on August 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

This article was used as an example by the person who taught me how to properly edit and vet copy in a PR agency, along with several stern admonitions:
* Never write anything that you wouldn't want to make into the public view.
* Never curse in a professional document of any kind, including your drafts.
* Never skim past copy that is going to print. Read everything carefully and with your full attention.
* Never, ever trust spell check. For example, "Public" and "Pubic" are both properly spelled words.

I had no idea that Mr. DeLeonibus had passed away under those circumstances. He was so young. :(

Thanks for this article, trillian. It's nice to have more context about what happened.
posted by zarq at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2017 [14 favorites]

Cameron Collins, the News Examiner’s news editor, was also Nick’s step half-brother. (His father, Fred Collins, married Dottie in the mid-1990s. Fred died in 2009.)

I am spending an unreasonable amount of time trying to figure out the circumstances that would lead to such a relation. So far, all I can figure is Fred and Dottie had an affair, making Cameron Nick's half-brother, then after Nick's dad died, Dottie and Fred got hitched, making Cameron Nick's step-brother.
posted by solotoro at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yeah, that's a hell of an article (by, ahem, Jeff Pearlman). What a roller-coaster ride. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Garrett Dixon, known to friends and teammates as “Bubba,” did not, in fact, suck donkey dicks nor wipe the shit off before practice
posted by gottabefunky at 1:13 PM on August 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

I worked at a newspaper just before the transition to all-electronic prepress. I was one of a team who used knives and hot wax rollers to glue strips of imagesetter output to pasteboards that would then be statted for the press guys to make plates from.

We were the rear guard because officially, at that point, the content was in control of advertising and production, not editorial -- they had signed off on their work and were doing other things. I can remember a few times where I'd flag one of the copyeditors over to check a story that sounded off to me. There was never anything on the level of reporters working in pranks, instead it was all stuff like placeholder text left in, bad/erroneous headlines or copy, or stories that ran excessively long or short.

These days, a story only has one or two pairs of eyes reviewing it before going live. A couple decades ago, even filler stories would have a writer, desk editor, copy editor, typesetter, and keyliner giving it them a once-over as a function of validating their own effort.
posted by ardgedee at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2017 [17 favorites]

Yeek. When I was very young, in my early 20s, I worked at an educational publishing house, meaning that the house published textbooks, mostly for elementary schools. I used to do stuff like this all the time, although it was pretty stupid harmless stuff like, "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines." I'm guess I'm glad it never got through. Although I will say that I'm mildly amused by the thought of teachers and school children in the mid-90s trying to figure out what the heck we might have been trying to say by, "I'm sorry, but we are out of badgers. Would you accept a wolverine in its place?" in the middle of the critical thinking exercises at the end of a chapter.
posted by holborne at 1:26 PM on August 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

Talk about "for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost".

I remember "I am a buttercup" at the bottom of an article for CNET making its way to live site back in 2000. A stern email went around about not using placeholder copy that would be questionable if published (lorem ipsum was a year or so away). Luckily, that's as silly as it got, but I think we all realized how it could've been a lot worse.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:28 PM on August 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

What an emotional arc.

I learned this lesson early.

In high school I had a study group with my friends A. and S. We would collaborate and write pretty good study guides, taking turns at the computer while the other two played NES games. We would take the guides home and study over the weekend.

We got pretty good grades, and classmates started asking for the secret. We started sharing the study guides to a few select friend in the condition that they would not share it with others.

4th semester we are in the middle of a biology midterm, very serious business in an auditorium, with two empty seats between each student.

Lalo starts giggling and gets a death stare from the professor. Then Marcia starts giggling. Then Mac starts laughing uncontrollably. Then most of the students are literally (yes, literally) on the floor laughing with contagious laughter the way high schoolers do.

The test is suspended, an investigation starts. Half the class fails and gets in deep trouble.

Our friend G. had missed the personalized message we had inserted in his guide before we gave it to him.

I swear on my high school memories that halfway through the guide it said: Dear G. You better finish studying the whole guide, if you fail biology you will lose your allowance and will have to go back to sucking donkey dick for money.

That is how we found out that our friend G. had been reducing the study guides in the photocopier to a tiny tiny size and selling them as cheating aids to half the class. And no one in the class was reading the notes before the test.

Since then my rule has been no to put anything in writing that I don't want my biology teacher to read.

I don't know what it is with donkey dicks, the message was 'termina de estudiar toda la guía huevón, si repruebas te van a quitar la mesada y vas a tener que volver a tus días de mamar burros por 10 pesos'.
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:48 PM on August 18, 2017 [30 favorites]

Oh my.
posted by AugustWest at 2:32 PM on August 18, 2017

Many years ago in a previous writing life, we were writing a profile of a well-known rabbi (Moshe Feinstein I believe). At the end of a sentence where he had done something interesting or profound or whatever, one of us (not me) wrote "DUDE!". It survived two rounds of proofreading, but not the third, thank goodness.
posted by Melismata at 2:56 PM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Garrett Dixon, known to friends and teammates as “Bubba,” did not, in fact, suck donkey dicks nor wipe the shit off before practice.

So it was a half-truth?

Edit your articles about the importance of editing articles, folks!
posted by Sys Rq at 4:38 PM on August 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

As I have mentioned previously, I spent the '90s at a Gannett newspaper in Marion, IN. Up the road is Huntington, Dan Quayle's hometown. One evening, a sports copy editor at the Huntington paper was waiting for information about a girls volleyball game. He foolishly did what many writers and page designers do and typed in filler material to hold the space for the real photo caption. As you saw in TFA, the great danger with this practice is that it often will not be caught before the page goes to the press. There are words where words need to be and it's already two minutes past deadline so here we go.

I have copies of what was published but not in front of me, so forgive some slight fudging: "[PLAYER'S NAME] grabbed [X] points and a sports editor's ass as the [TEAM] beat the Hilljacks of Bumblefucky [FAKE SCORE]."

The front page of the next issue of the paper carried a lavish apology from the publisher, who commented that no one had yet been able to contact the sports copy editor involved. I never found out what happened to the guilty party (or even who it was), nor am I aware of any lawsuits resulting from the idiocy. (Having worked for Gannett, though, I was not surprised to read in TFA that the corporation contested an open-and-shut lawsuit. They would.)

Also: He wasn’t bad and he wasn’t terrific. He just...was. “Reasonably good—that was Nick.”

Most writers are like this, and for most of what daily journalism needs to do it's perfectly fine. I was always pleased to find someone like this for my newsroom (after Indiana). We couldn't pay enough to get better work, and this sufficed pretty nicely. Especially for "500 words that would be forgotten before the ink dried."
posted by bryon at 11:15 PM on August 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

What I took from this is people can be immense, cruel assholes the moment they have a chance. How is the humiliation that Dixon felt at the hands of his supposed friends (and other pupils) at school only the fault of someone somewhere writing something? Was the community not Christian enough?
posted by Laotic at 2:21 AM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is hilarious and terrible.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:14 AM on August 19, 2017

Here's an interesting behind-the-article post from the author:

- The story was first rejected by the New Yorker, ESPN, and Bleacher Report
- He was paid $500 for it, which is not great
posted by retrograde at 9:57 AM on August 19, 2017 [12 favorites]

Excellent and relevant story. I did something very similar at a college radio station many moons ago - a mean-spirited satirical 'promo' for a fundraising event. The promo somehow made it to air during primetime, when many of the event's organisers were listening. Feathers were ruffled.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 12:21 PM on August 19, 2017

Reminds me of this small ad from my home town paper. The editor drove frantically around town on the morning of publication collecting unsold copies from all the local shops...
posted by winterhill at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

When I was in college, my first year working at the school paper (when I was still a lowly staff photographer didn't do anything with the words), the staff put together a new design concept part-way through the year. Our football team was doing poorly that year (as is wont to happen when you go to an engineering school), and whoever was doing the mock front page decided to use some filler text for the "What's Inside" box on the front page:

Sports - Page 7
Football: Another entry in the endless "Miners Lose Again" saga.

We made it through I think two issues with the new design, before someone forgot to update the "What's Inside" box before sending the paper to the press. It was no "Donkey Dick", and I don't recall anyone getting fired, but I recall a lot of groveling to the football team needing to happen the rest of that season.
posted by jferg at 3:56 PM on August 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

One thing that struck me was that all parties involved were able to find jobs afterwards. Between the ease of doing background checks via the internet, and the scarcity of jobs, that would never happen nowadays.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:56 AM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to copy-edit for a living. It can be fun, meeting other editors, to trade horror stories of our favorite errors, like this one from a chat I had with a friend on January 1, 2014: "Lol, this placeholder PDF: 'Dining Team Strip-In'" (Of course I was working on New Year's Day. Such was the way of things with print deadlines. I worked a lot of holidays for many years.)

That phrase, "strip-in," was always amusing. It didn't mean anything untoward, but it sounded like it. We should've stopped putting in placeholders like that years before. This article informs the urgency and nervousness with which anything even remotely questionable is treated in the print realm. I would say it's easy to forget that, now that I largely work on the web, but I probably never will.

So a strip-in, as I'd learned in great detail about 5 years before that, is a technical term for an updated page that is to be added to a bound printed publication during the stage when it's just a stack of cut pieces of paper. A machine "strips" it into the right place, sometimes with manual assistance. One of my jobs as a managing editor, a role I took on in late 2009, was to be that last set of editorial eyes on our layouts—and to minimize the number of strip-ins editorial had to request. They cost extra, and if they came late enough in the process, they required an additional replating charge. We usually would keep it to 5 or fewer, forever trying to get it down to zero to win that elusive pizza party. I think that happened once in the time I was there, usually due to discretionary edits being made.

As I learned on August 17, 2009, when I was still but a lowly associate editor, when strip-ins come really late in the process, the change may be made with stickers over the area to be replaced. And when every single person higher than you on three teams (ad, edit, production) misses the phrase "STRIP IN" in huge letters taking up one column of a page, sometimes the decision is made to send a group of junior team members with relatively few earthly attachments down to the printing plant in another state to work overnight amid the dust of the presses, alongside the second and third shifts, stickering 50,000 copies of a publication.

We drove down at the end of the regular workday the next day. It took a bit to get a process going, and not everyone was able to focus, but eventually we found our rhythm. I learned I was a beast at stickering. We had an assembly line: one person would open magazines to the page in question and stack them up for the stickerer. The stickerer had to pay close attention to detail and lay the sticker down flat on the inside column, along the spine of the already bound pages. What was missing was the table of contents for a special advertising section, which of course had been missed by the ad manager.

This all had to be done as quickly as possible; I had run the math at one point on the way down, and it was daunting. From a chat log:
calculate how many minutes are in a day

x3 days

x how many magazines do you think we can turn to the correct page and sticker per minute

even working 24/7, six of us are not going to be able to finish this in three days
The production manager had driven us down there at breakneck speed on 5-hour energy shots. He would ultimately drive us back on more of the same, after no sleep. We had a hotel room booked, but we only used it for brief breaks. I remember developing a hacking cough after breathing enough paper and ink dust by about 3 a.m. that a junior art director and I went back to the hotel for an hour's break. There was no cell reception inside the plant, so we couldn't communicate with the rest of the team to stagger breaks or bring back anything. I felt like I was going to die from a pulmonary embolism or something—and this was a plant that met fairly high standards for cleanliness.

Even at that, I recognized my privilege, trading stories with second-shifters. They were there every night, and they'd almost all seen divorces and other difficulties from working odd and long hours in the dust.

Before the production manager drove us back in the lightening predawn hours, we stopped to get burgers at a Wendy's, I want to say. After we were dropped off in the parking lot at work, I drove home in my own car at dawn, slapping myself to stay awake. Then I finally got to sleep.

So yeah. It's been 8 years as of this week, and I've never forgotten that experience. And that was only over something fairly innocuous that at least could be fixed, at the cost of some of our sanity and sleep, before it went out to subscribers and newsstands. I can only imagine how it felt to be on the wrong end of this and see an entire publication hit by lawsuits for something like this.

Thanks for sharing this piece!
posted by limeonaire at 3:36 PM on August 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, and yeah, the production manager to this day has one of those stickers framed on his wall. I just found the couple I'd saved in an old copy of The Unwritten a few months ago. Someday I'll get one framed too.
posted by limeonaire at 3:43 PM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Related to this, I was troubleshooting a problem with images not updating on a key part of the home page on a high profile client's website, though only on the live production server. There was pressure to fix it quickly. After a frustrating hour trying everything, I uploaded an image from my hard drive manually, not expecting it to work and it didn't. Another hour later I checked it was still not displaying new images on either the cached or uncached pages, gave up for the day and went home.

I came back the following day and around lunchtime needed to check something on the (high traffic) Chinese instance of the site (which lived on separate servers owing to the Great Firewall). Sure enough, there was my test image from the previous day front and centre on the Chinese home page. Because I am cautious, I had chosen the client's logo as the test image. Had I chosen something less innocuous, I'd probably still be unemployed. Had I for some reason chosen Tank Man, it would have been an international incident.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:35 AM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

« Older “Nestlé knew exactly what it was doing.”   |   Reacting swiftly, Mayor Quimby has declared Mob... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments