A little background on the life of a newspaper editor, first. A “behind the curtain,” if you will.
The life of a newspaper editor is tedious. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. The job itself, unless you’re in the Big Leagues, doesn’t pay all that well, and that pay surely doesn’t make up for the daily deadlines, constant criticism and certain errors that simply come with the job.
This is why newspaper folk are cynical. This is why they tend to have a darker sense of humor … it’s needed — absolutely vital — to keep sanity.
When The Sanford Herald‘s editor — we’ll keep his name out of this because we’re not going to beat a guy down for his mistake (and because, Google) — was facing another cold, late night on Tuesday, January 21, 2003, he decided to “lighten the mood” a bit with what we in the business call a placeholder tease atop the next day’s front page. This editor was done with his front page long before that night’s slate of high school basketball games were complete, but he knew his teaser for the sports page would be the result of the Lee County-Western Harnett high school basketball game that night.
“JACKETS BLOW IT OUT THE ASS, PAGE 1B” the editor wrote, with absolutely no intention of anybody seeing this, save for himself (remember, humor=sanity) and his sports editor, who probably also got a good hearty chuckle.
I’ve done it before. In my last week at The Herald in 2011, I — very inadvertently — left a placeholder headline above a Chamber Chat column written by Bob Joyce, then of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce. My placeholder headline (which I’ll add if I can ever find the image) read: “Place Jon’s Boring Headline Here xxxxxx.” That’s the same Jon who co-founded The Rant and was our sports editor at the time.
It was embarrassing. Especially as I was halfway out the door to begin with.
But it didn’t come close to this.
Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project and journalism professor and author at UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote about the Jackets blowing it out the ass in his book, “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local.”
Lauterer interviewed then-Publisher Bill Horner III (name included, not his mistake) about his reaction to the “sphincter trumpeting” headline for his book in a chapter about newspaper mistakes. An excerpt:
Horner says they decided their response would be to “meet it head on and own up to our mistake; no excuses.” Horner and the editor immediately wrote apologies on the paper’s Web site, returned every phone call and issued the apology again, for distribution the following day via the paper’s “total market coverage” product.
In his apology column appearing in the following Thursday’s Herald, Horner called the headline “the result of a foolish mistake by an editor and an incredible lack of oversight by others responsible for the production of the paper.”
And he was right. Not only did the headline pass muster from the newsroom, it also made it through several other sets of eyes before hitting the racks and driveways the next morning — the people who took the negatives and transferred them to the printer … the people who took a look at the first batch of papers off that printer to check for color and print quality … the people who stacked and bound the papers … the people who handed those stacks to the delivery drivers … the people who delivered the papers … the people who put them in the racks …
Nobody caught the headline. And if they did, nobody cared enough to call a boss and say, “Uh … is this right?”
The editor also wrote an apology, calling the mistake at the time “the worst day of my career.” His apology echoed the memories of many-a-editor, 99-percent of whom deleted their funny or offensive placeholder headline before it hit the printers. According to Lauterer, the editor explained that, normally, he would write something like “Jackets promo here” as a reminder for his sports editor to fill in the headline later that night. He called the “blow it out the ass” header “an inside joke with the sports staff” that was never intended for print.
A former Herald writer — Rant co-founder and alien conspiracy theorist Gordon Anderson — was a young, arrogant reporter too green to understand life’s meaning in 2003. Anderson was excited about the Jan. 22, 2003, Herald for a different reason — his was the leading story that day, an above-the-fold story about a man jailed after a standoff with police.
“At first, I was kinda disappointed at being overshadowed,” Anderson told The Rant, “but of course I came around to the hilarity of having my name just below the greatest newspaper flub I’ve ever witnessed.”
Those who didn’t receive the paper that morning would have a difficult time getting their hands on what would become a keepsake edition of The Herald. Delivery drivers, office personnel and any other hands on deck either retrieved many papers from the racks and convenience stores after the error was found, and the papers that did remain had the offensive headline either ripped off or cut off with scissors by Herald staff.
Legend has it, the headline was included on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’s weekly “headlines” bit. The Rant’s staff of hard-nosed researchers have endured hours of terrible Jay Leno to find this clip, unsuccessfully.
We’ve reached out to the editor via social media to see if he’s up for a stroll down memory lane. We’d also like to hear your memories of the greatest teaser headline of all time (comment below or on Facebook).
We’ll leave you with a sports writing mistake that was 800,000-times worse than “Jackets blow it out the ass.” It’s an article from 20 years ago that Deadspin recently called “sportswriting’s filthiest f*ck-up.”
In 1997, a sports writer for the Gallatin (Tenn.) News Examiner also wrote an “inside joke” for his editor that was never meant to see the light of day. His joke was an entire paragraph embedded into a routine high school soccer story. In the fourth-to-last paragraph of his story, the writer made up a quote from the coach about how one of his players, uhm, enjoyed certain parts of a donkey and how his, well … you can read it for yourself.
— Billy Liggett