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Thinking About Typing And Typos

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Mistakes happen. As a journalist for more than 15 years, I made my share of typos. Typos and other mistakes in journalism are important for several reasons:

  • What may seem to some like a small mistake, such as the misspelling of a person’s name, can have huge, terrible consequences. The theory goes that every person who reads the person’s name and knows it is misspelled will proceed to question everything else they read.
  • While television news does a terrible job of admitting mistakes — reason #2,888 that I prefer newspapers to television news programs — newspapers usually do a good job of acknowledging an error occurred and apologizing for it. Good newspapers run corrections in the same place each day, often page one for mistakes that occurred on the front page and page two for most other mistakes.
  • The catching of mistakes by readers, when added to mistakes admitted by reporters and staff, leads to credibility problems.

Since nobody is perfect, some mistakes are to be expected.

One of the difficult parts about being a journalist is that your mistakes are so public. When an accountant, for example, makes a mistake but it is later caught, the public is none the wiser. But if a reporter interviews a man named John Smith and assumes Smith is spelled the usual way then realizes it’s actually spelled Smyth, the reporter is going to look like an idiot. Many reporters insist on getting business cards to confirm spelling and titles.

Complicating matters, readers assume the reporter is responsible for the wording — and spelling — of the headlines and photo captions when that is often not the case. Let me give some personal examples.[ADBLOCKHERE]

One of the more common mistakes reporters make is leaving out the L in the word “public”. Spell-check agrees that the mistake is a word and presto: We now have ourselves a pubic hearing. One of my more embarrassing mistakes was referring to a person as the “pubic works manager.” Tough job, I am sure. Fortunately, he took it in stride.

Some mistakes are pure stupidity. I wrote obituaries at the first newspapers I worked for. One day I came to a Hispanic name I did not recognize. As the gender of the deceased was not stated I did something stupid, I guessed. Long story short, I guessed wrong and the family called howling the next day and I felt like crap. After that I always checked even if it meant interrupting families still grieving.

Fast Typing

As do most reporters, I type fast. I got that speed through a unique strategy. I was a slow typist during college until I took a typing class. It quickly became clear that the typing teacher wanted fast typing rather than accurate typing. At the time I was listening to a lot of punk music, especially Bad Religion, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Seven Seconds, etc. So I put on my headphones and began typing while listening to punk music. As the keystrokes struggled to keep up with the fast beat, my typing speed increased. That first week my typing speed increased from about 35 words per minute to about 75 words per minute. The next week my speed improved to about 100 words per minute.

Other students were not oblivious to this change. They also began listening to music and typing faster. This continued for about one month until we reached a point where all of the students were listening to music while working. While we thought this was bloody brilliant, our teacher was increasingly frustrated as he realized he had lost control of his class.

He asked us to stop listening to the music while we typed. We negotiated an agreement – we could use the music for the tests, so our results would still be good, but the rest of the time we would listen to the teacher.

Twist of Fate

In a nice twist, now that I have left the journalism profession for an education career I am subbing in various classes as I work toward a degree to teach English in middle school. That means dealing with students who make typos that are hilarious. I have gotten good at suppressing a laugh when a student writes something unintentionally funny.

I had to laugh last week when subbing in an English class and students were asking to listen to music while they read and write. “You can’t do that,” I told them. But, the students said, we can work faster with music. I could almost hear myself saying the same words to my typing teacher.

But I told them no. Do as I say, not as I do.

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
  • Excellent article Scott.

  • Nice job.

    So I should liten to empty headed music to empty my head and type and then run the spell checker, right? If I can dig out the piece on spell checkers my father-in-law sent me, will it help?

    Scott, if I screw up more on my typing will you turn out more articles on the subject?

    Finally, point out to your students that what you are teaching them requires thought – an enemy when you want to type 100 words per minute…

  • Your city is not the only one with a pubic works department. My current hometown’s department gave themselves that title in the front page headline of a newsletter on water quality they published a couple years back.

  • Scott Butki

    A.L., thanks
    Ruvy, yes maybe but don’t use that as a rationale to make more errors.

    Victor, that’s hilarious.
    There were points off taken for mistkes in our copy but it wasn’t done in a way that made the
    sstrategy unattractive.
    So if I had 100 wpm it’d go down to 80.

    What killed me was when I interviewed for one newspaper job and they had me take a typing test but it was a typewriter so old it did not have any way of correcting mistakes.
    That was a disaster.

  • Scott Butki

    DO other people make typos?

  • Scott Butki

    I’m still proud to get Fugazi, Harry Wong and
    Elements of Style in the same piece.

  • Scott Butki

    Worse than typos are interviews with the completely wrong person, as took place here
    when BBC interviewed the wrong guy.

  • Scott Butki

    I was thinking today about a typo made in a resume.
    It was a resume of a new public employee.

    Among his distinctions was serving on a committee to assist then President Nixon with giving the public a positive “massage.”

    When I interviewed him for a story announcing his hiring I said Nixon never struck me as the type to get massages, let alone encourage others to get them.
    Although it did make me wonder if Watergate could have been avoided if Nixon had just gotten some good massages and been less insecure.

    Turns out he was working with Nixon on giving a message to the public, not a massage. I agreed to fix the typo for the news story but I never forgot that one.

  • Scott Butki

    Here’s a great new one.
    “Apparently the Pima County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t heard the saying that loose lips sink ships.
    A “law-enforcement-sensitive” information alert on terrorist activity stamped repeatedly “Do NOT release to the public or media” was sent out Monday to pretty much every media organization in Southern Arizona.
    In a Keystone Kops-style maneuver, Lt. Karl Woolridge, in the Special Operations Section of the Sheriff’s Department, sent an e-mail to members of the media instead of to its intended recipients.”

  • Scott Butki

    apologized yesterday after television anchor Kyra Phillips took a toilet break but inadvertently left her personal microphone on – and broadcast live in excruciating detail her bathroom gossip session during a nationally televised speech by US President George W. Bush.”

  • Scott Butki

    From Slate:

    “A correction from today’s Post: “The Sept. 15 Weekend section incorrectly indicated that the movie ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated’ is rated NC-17. It is unrated.”

  • Scott Butki


    Newspaper Prints Names of Jurors In Murder Trial

    A Cincinatti newspaper makes a major mistake: Printing the names of jurors. The link takes you to an apology – but the damage has been done.