News item: The Hudson Sun and Marlborough Enterprise, two Massachusetts weekly newspapers with roots going back well over a century, have been closed down by their owner.
It was 1997, maybe 1998, and my college newspaper buddies were all out in the workplace getting their careers under way.
One of them, a sports journalist by choice, had landed as the sports editor of the weekly papers in Hudson and Marlborough, and possibly other papers as well. He was overworked and underpaid, and he enjoyed it, in the manner of young journalists everywhere.
My friend couldn’t cover every sports event in the two towns, nor could he afford to hire stringers to do it. So, for some sports, he relied on submissions from parents.
Pop Warner football was one of those sports. My friend had an arrangement with a father of one of the players, who would bring in handwritten accounts of the games. A scanning program would turn the guy’s handwriting into computer text. My friend would review the text for flagged errors — you know how Microsoft Word underlines possible misspellings and grammar flubs — and then lay it out for print.
(Why the dad couldn’t type the stuff remains a mystery to me. It would have saved a whole bunch of trouble. Anyway.)
One week the scanner made a mistake. It misread the loops and curves of the word “arms” for another word entirely — a real word, so Microsoft Word didn’t underline or flag it. My friend, who was used to looking for flagged errors, didn’t notice it either.
And so it was that a kickoff landed in “the waiting anus” of a schoolboy football player, rather than “the waiting arms.”
Yes, in print.
My friend was mortified, and probably convinced that the sportswriting career he’d dreamed of for most of his life was done.
I remember he had to sit through a tongue-lashing from a middle-to-senior editor type, which struck me as kind of a jerk move at the time. In retrospect, I guess you can’t make an error like that and not get a lecture from somebody … but at the time it seemed surplus to requirements, as one only had to talk to my friend for about 10 seconds to know how seriously he took the whole thing.
The Waiting Anus Incident did not end my friend’s journalism career. He stayed at it. The following week, he started reading every word of the scanned copy. Almost 25 years later, he’s still in the business, working as a regional editor overseeing the sports coverage of a group of daily papers.
And the weekly papers where he made his big gaffe? Those seemingly eternal bastions of the community, chronicling the ups and downs of local life, sheltering generations of young journalists in their turn? Gone.
Not sure if there’s a moral to the story, except maybe that we should not be judged based on the worst day we ever have.