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Make no mistake ... we all make them

Published: Saturday, July 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Attached to page 1 of our May 22 edition was a handwritten letter that arrived on the editor’s desk.

“Are these headlines what we really want people to start their day with?” the reader asked. “Are most readers really interested in this old/re-hashed news?”

He apparently was referring to the top story on the page: coverage of Nicholas Sheley’s third murder trial.

“Isn’t there any news on climate change that is challenging or positive?” he suggested.

That front page also included a story about the commencement ceremony for Newman Central Catholic High School, a happy story with two photos of happy graduates.

Also on that page was an article about whether a Thai restaurant was going to follow through on plans for a new site in Rock Falls.

A newspaper is not tailored to each individual customer. It’s a mass medium – perhaps the last true mass medium in a niche media world – that typically is a mix of news that tries to offer something, but not everything, for everybody.

Our audience, as we acknowledge, has diverse interests and divergent opinions.If yours are not represented, drop us a line.

UPON HIS RETURN from vacation, the editor had a voice mail directing him to the third item under “Miscellaneous for Sale” in the classified ads section of the June 23 edition.

“I thought it was something that might be on the Jay Leno show,” the reader said in her message.

She was referring to a segment that the former Tonight Show host used to feature funny clippings from newspapers.

And she was right. The ad she pointed out offered for sale ...

Kids inflatable 3 ring rectangular swim poop w/ pump, $20 ...

Yeah, you wouldn’t want that without the pump.

HEY, WE ALL MAKE mistakes, right?

Errors of fact ... errors of judgment ... typographical errors.

No one is immune.

It proves we’re human.

And some people are more prone to be human than others.

TAKE THIS QUESTION you will find on the Illinois ballot Nov. 4.

Should the Illinois Constitution be amended to require that each school district receive additional revenue, based on their number of students, from an additional 3% tax on income greater than one million dollars?

Did you see the glaring mistake? Probably not.

That’s because it’s a grammatical error that is commonly made in casual speech – something the editor calls “conversational English.”

But written text is generally held to a higher standard of grammatical correctness. The editor calls that “grammatical English.”

The problem with the ballot referendum is that the possessive pronoun “their” is a plural, which is inconsistent with its antecedent, the singular “each school district.”

Frankly, it’s a mistake this newspaper makes with embarrassing frequency: a sports team, a governing body, or a business might be referred to as “they,” when the proper pronoun would be “it.”

“The team won its (not their) first game of the year ...”

Hardly anyone is confused by the error.

But your seventh-grade English teacher wouldn’t approve.

WRITING ABOUT SUCH mistakes is fraught with danger.

The late syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick opined regularly about writing and grammar, in addition to his commentary on the courts.

When editors received those writing columns, they would see a special request from Kilpatrick to make doubly sure that errors did not creep into his copy, lest he be considered a grammatical hypocrite.

A columnist whose work appears regularly on this newspaper’s Opinion page found that out recently when he wrote about the error in the constitutional question on the Illinois ballot.

“Illinois is a place where legislators talk about raising literacy standards – but don’t practice them,” the columnist lectured.

Then the last sentence of that column read:

But one things we do know is that the more we tax folks who create jobs, the fewer jobs there will be.

More than 6 hours after sending out his original column, the writer sent a correction: It should be one thing, not onethings.

“I caught a typo in the last sentence of the column,” he said. “And yes I recognize the irony. Here is a corrected version. I apologize for the error.”

Hey, we all make mistakes, right?

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