Journalists on their biggest mistakes: ‘I deserved the angry phone call I got for that one’

On Friday, we asked journalists about their big mistakes (and I wrote about one of my own.) That first story included several other stories that readers shared on Facebook this week. Here’s what we heard today through email and Twitter:

Jeff Bercovici, reporter, Forbes

A couple months into the launch of Radar Online in 2006, I got a tip from a friendly source who always had good media/advertising gossip that Apple was going to drop Justin Long from its Mac Guy/PC Guy ad campaign. I called up Long’s rep, who immediately started spinning me: Apple wasn’t “dropping” anybody because Justin’s contract was almost up anyway, etc. I took this for confirmation.

What I didn’t know was this was the first she was hearing of any of it; she was just spinning a reporter out of reflex, I guess. There was, as far as I can discern, no substance to the rumor, just a bum tip. Apple being Apple, it blew up like crazy. Instant national story. CNBC booked me for a segment. I was on air when the host told me that Apple — which virtually never comments on anything — was denying the report. He asked me to comment. Erp. My Radar friends still tease me about it all the time.

Bill Fonda, editor, Weymouth (Massachusetts) News and Braintree Forum

Stephen T. Watson, business reporter, The Buffalo News

As clever intern, used lede, “If [company founder] were alive today…” Turns out, was retired and elderly but very much alive. I felt enormous shame. Even better/worse, he died a week later.

Dan Kennedy, journalist, author and associate professor

Bryan Demchinsky, semi-retired, former business editor, Montreal Gazette

As business editor, this one got by me: a reporter described the portly CEO of a family-owned cheese and dairy company as “a cheese magnet.”

Sandra Thomas, staff writer/travel editor, Vancouver Courier

Really enjoyed your column. It also brought to mind a story I wrote about the construction of the Canada Line rapid transit system in Vancouver prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Due to all of the constructions, the city had a huge insurgence of rats, which were being driven out of their normal habitat. I interviewed an exterminator who told me these rats were huge, but mistakenly gave me their length in centimetres rather than millimetres. And being notoriously bad at math, I wrote it verbatim and none of our proof readers caught it. It’s a wonder I didn’t start a riot with news of what would have been 12-foot rats running rampant across the city.

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  • Citiboy67

    A colleague of mine, preparing the late edition of a UK Sunday newspaper one Saturday night, wrote the wrong numbers down for that evening’s National Lottery draw. Other newspapers made much of our mistake in their Monday editions. I expect we ruined some people’s day when they discovered they hadn’t, after all, scooped the jackpot

  • BernieBastinaly

    Jacqueline implied I’m taken by surprise that a mom can earn $8130 in 1 month
    on the computer . see post F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

  • Jim Harper

    In the early ’80s, covering the trial of a gas station owner accused of molesting a 13-year-old male employee, I somehow substituted the name of my neighborhood Amoco station for the one where the alleged abuse had occurred. Even worse, in describing the boy’s rebuttals to the defense attorney’s questions whether he’d made up his story after being caught stealing, I said the boy was “adamant about what —- had done to him.” Only I substituted the lawyer’s name for the defendant’s. And the lawyer was one of the few out gay professionals in town. Worst brain cramp of my life. Amazing I didn’t get fired then and there. Maybe because editors hadn’t caught either error.

    Postscript: We corrected the misnamed gas station. But when I called the lawyer to apologize, he asked me not to run a correction about him and the defendant (whose conviction had already been reported in the original story.) “My client’s name has been in the paper more than he wants, as it is.” …. I never forgot my grievous errors, nor the selflessness of that defense lawyer. Almost two decades later, he and I wound up working together to support and grow an LGBT film festival, and we became friends.