Thursday, December 2, 2021
Dec. 2, 2021

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From the Newsroom: Stories can take different paths to print

By , Columbian Editor

News stories appearing in The Columbian are printed using the same typeface, the same ink and the same newsprint. But the path they take to the page can vary considerably.

I was reminded about this dichotomy this week after receiving two complaints about the same story.

We take our time producing our Sunday center packages for the front page. It’s not unusual for those stories to be in progress for weeks and to undergo multiple rounds of editing over several days. On the other hand, some of our wire stories on inside pages are selected and reviewed very quickly. Local daily stories fall somewhere in between.

Here are two examples. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, we published a front-page story by Katie Gillespie, our education reporter, about a push to de-link state test scores and graduation requirements. (If you had a child in high school in the last 15 years, you remember the angst about passing the WASL, the HSPE or the Smarter Balanced test in order to graduate. Now the thinking in some quarters is to end that sort of high-stakes testing.)

According to my digital detective skills, Katie created her story on Feb. 1, probably so that she could generate the art assignment and also to get it on our story budget. She wrote the bulk of the story on the afternoon before it ran, and finished up about 5:15 p.m. I opened and edited the story — I made a few small changes — and gave it back to her at 5:35 p.m. to review. She checked it back in at 5:38 p.m.

At 6:25 p.m., page designer Dave Magnuson placed it on the front page, and at 7:49 p.m. Assistant News Editor Colleen Keller gave the story a thorough edit and wrote the headline. Although I had already looked at the story with Katie two hours earlier, our copy editors always give local stories a careful read, looking not only for mistakes or missing information, but also for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors.

Finally, the story went to copy editor Joey Trull, who was “slotting” the pages, giving them a last look before releasing them for printing. He finished at 8:37 p.m.

A lot of attention was given to this local story, and it paid off: The story was thoroughly reported, well presented and free of errors.

Now let’s look at the story that generated the complaints, “Family ponders giving totem pole to Port of Kalama.” This story was written by a reporter at another newspaper, and its fourth paragraph said, “The totem is still at the park, laying behind the port’s new amphitheater.”

Yes, it was the old lie/lay problem you remember from eighth-grade English. The totem is “lying” in the park, of course, not “laying.” Arrgh!

The story came from the Tribune News Service, which picks up and distributes stories without providing any editing. We picked it off the wire at 5:55 p.m., it went to the page designer and then to a copy editor who quickly wrote a headline. The page was through slot by 8:20 p.m.

Unlike Katie’s story, which took more than three days for us to produce and edit, this one took less than three hours. The difference was obvious to grammarians.

Perhaps on a quieter night, we would have had more time to thoroughly edit this routine story and catch the error. But this one was full of breaking news.

President Trump’s annual State of the Union speech began at 6 p.m., just about the time we were picking this story in order to finish Page C2. Not long afterward, a running gun battle erupted between police and a murder/robbery suspect, diverting our attention as we scrambled to get as much of that breaking story in print as we could.

I apologize for the mistake. Letting a grammar error appear in print is never a good thing. But readers deserve to know how these obvious mistakes can get by us.