Home The Soapbox Column: To err is human (and it’s often kind of funny)

Column: To err is human (and it’s often kind of funny)


There’s never any joy in knowing you messed up. 

But in some cases, there’s solace in knowing you might have a laugh some time down the road.

A few days back, I was reading over some Valley Review pieces on my lunch hour. I caught a typo and a grammar error and it killed me that I couldn’t do anything about it until after I got home from the day job.

It was sloppy, but minor stuff in the grand scheme of things. Though it brought to mind some other moments during my life as a news reporter: some that began as panic, yet mellowed into chuckle-worthy as they aged.

For one, a phone call from the sheriff in the early 2000s offered the important lesson that technology aimed to prevent mistakes can occasionally have quite the opposite effect.

Former Winnebago Sheriff Michael Brooks called me one afternoon and within an hour of a story being posted online.

“Who are you calling a windbag?” he asked in a terse tone. 

Sure enough, our website read “Windbag Sheriff Michael Brooks.” After some stuttering and stammering, I regained enough cognitive ability to realize it was all thanks to the brilliant auto-correct function that I hadn’t thought to disable.

Fortunately, the sheriff took it in good humor and the error was caught well before it had any chance to reach the press.

I have witnessed some interesting typos that were sneaky enough to evade all safeguards. Notably, missing Ls had a tendency to get past editors and cause a commotion.

I giggled, but all the same felt bad for the ad designer who missed an L and made a clock repair business into something entirely different. 

The Oshkosh Public Museum became far more risque on multiple occasions by way of the missing letter.

I’m probably the only guy who can vividly remember when he learned that there’s also a Winnebago County in Illinois. 

A call came over the police scanner for a shooting and I called over to dispatch for some preliminary details. 

“There’s nothing going on,” I was assured. 

I was in no mood for BS. I became forceful in tone, letting the dispatcher know I was listening in as we spoke. It turns our radio reception was better than usual that day. And after a few moments, we learned there was indeed a shooting — in Rockford; just south of the Wisconsin border. 

I felt like an ass.

Mistakes come in all shapes and sizes. There are typos. Occasionally, reporters will blow it as it comes to fact. 

Usually, it’s misspelled names or misreported ages, but you’ll occasionally see big, old nasty, palm-to-the-forehead screw ups.

It many sound counter intuitive, though I suggest readers should take some comfort when they’re reading corrections. For me, it’s easier to trust someone when you know they’ll fess up when they get it wrong.

With that, I’d encourage all of you to point out errors when you see them on this website. 

Credibility is the most important attribute any news outlet can have. It’s not if. It’s when. I haven’t nailed down the perfection thing yet. 

And when the time comes, we’ll fess up. We’ll make it right … 

Unless, of course, I’m actually intending to call someone a windbag that next time around.