Over at The Subversive Copy Editor, Carol Fisher Saller has asked copy editors to share some of their embarrassing mistakes, which I think is a great idea. It’s good to remind non-editors that copy editors are both human and all too aware of our fallibility, and to reassure other copy editors that they’re not the only ones who goof.
I’m going to confine myself to one confession, but it’s a doozy:
I once sent a paper to press with dummy text in all the page-one teases.
(All the newspaper editors just inhaled sharply through their teeth.)
I was working at one of those outfits where copy editors do both layout and editing, and on this particular night, the front page and jump were ready well before everything else, so I laid them out and printed the draft of page one for proofreading. I left the teases blank—well, technically they said “Tease Goes Here XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX”—because I hadn’t laid out the rest of the paper, so I didn’t know what to tease yet.
The night wore on, and I put the rest of the paper together, editing and laying out a late story on a local government meeting about 20 minutes before deadline. I just… never went back to fill in the teases. I forgot. And I had no idea what I’d done until I came in the next day and saw the front page.
Everyone in newspapers has made at least one very visible, very embarrassing mistake, so my coworkers were surprisingly understanding. But I still cringe every time I think about it.
And this, kids, is why I am an obnoxiously persistent crusader for dummy text like “Hed goes here and here” or “Caption eawlfdjkfhbdsaklfdjkla” rather than joke or placeholder text. Dummy text is more likely to jump out at you when glancing over pages before sending them to press—although it’s clearly not an infallible system—and more importantly, dummy text doesn’t get you or your publication in trouble if it accidentally gets printed. What if I’d written something in those teaser boxes? Something like, “Another boring councilman meeting, page whatever,” or “Lady Minutemen is still the dumbest team name, page who cares”? Reader, I have dearly wanted to type things like that into spaces where real text should go to give the proofreader a laugh, but I even more dearly do not want to get fired. So I leave the dummy text and scribble jokey suggested headlines in the margins or call them out to the rest of the copy desk while feigning typing.
Learn from me, children. No jokes in live files.