So, what exactly is a "screwup?" A wrong fact, a misspelled headline, a prediction proven wrong, and business decisions that backfired were all included in our poll of former Seattle Weekly staffers. In order to keep the selection fresh, we will offer you one each of the many types of blunders that help keep the process of putting out a weekly newspaper interesting. Here are a few of the award-winning gaffes that have kept our crack legal staff on their toes and given staff members experience writing corrections.
MINOR LEAGUE TYPO AWARD: Sure, we've misspelled a couple words over the years. And the curious initials "TK" that appear from time to time in stories aren't a code, but a placeholder for information that nobody remembered to insert (TK is print shop speak for "to come"). Misspellings on the cover are more rare, though they do happen. For example, Sub Pop Records isn't a "legandary" local record company, as we suggested on our March 26, 1997 cover, although it is, arguably, "legendary." And let's leave nameless the early Weekly typesetter whose idea of wacky fun was to insert obscenities and rude comments in copy in order to "test" his editors' ability to proofread. One harmless example made it into print; the editors later deleted the typesetter himself.
MAJOR-LEAGUE TYPO AWARD: This one originated in a completed advertisement submitted by the company itself, but it still provokes chuckles and horrified expressions among employees when cited. A local music store claimed to have "served countless local musicians," but somehow the letter "o" was omitted from the word "countless." Ouch!
LACK OF FORESIGHT AWARD: Every successful artist treasures bad reviews from the early days, so he or she can gloat at the reviewer's failure to recognize true genius. The Weekly provided author David Guterson with bulletin board material in our review of his soon-to- be bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars. For starters, first-time novelist Guterson was relegated to the short reviews section, then writer Rebecca Gleason pummeled him for failing to deliver on the promising plotline. "Guterson tells his story in such a flat, disconnected voice (likely meant to evoke the numbness of San Piedro's residents) that he saps its energy, numbing readers along with his fictional islanders." The book sold well, nonetheless.
IDEAS NOT ACTED ON AWARD: Former editor/publisher David Brewster remembers being talked out of his idea of starting a bookstore that would sell only Northwest titles (the Weekly then owned regional publishing house Sasquatch Books). "I thought that was just a great idea," he says. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the company stayed out of the retail business.
IDEAS ACTED ON AWARD: As the company's worst business decision of all time, Brewster nominates the early 1990s founding of the Weekly's own printing business. Although it seemed like a natural idea for a paper used to battling for time on other publications' presses, the side business "was a distraction and a money-loser" and was closed.
EXPANSION BLUNDERS AWARD: Any company which puts out one publication wants to do others—and, in 1982, the Weekly couldn't resist buying Enetai, a freely circulated publication distributed on Washington ferries. But advertisers whose primary target market was ferry riders proved few and far between. The publication was ultimately banned by its host for making fun of ferry coffee.
THIS AIN'T NEW YORK AWARD: In a brief December 10, 1998 story, we reported the shocking news that the Seattle Times was refusing to provide home delivery to the lower-income south Beacon Hill neighborhood. "Strangely, though," we wrote, "the Times has enough manpower to cover Seward Park, a five-minute drive away." The local outrage was dulled somewhat by the revelation that the paper with the limited delivery area was actually the New York Times; the original draft of the story had merely referred to the paper as "the Times," and the editor just assumed. . . .
WRONG LUNCH BUFFET AWARD: Of course, sometimes it's not enough to screw up the copy; you want to screw up the photos. A choice example was our 1999 review of a new Indian restaurant atop Queen Anne Hill called Mayuri. We couldn't have been more flattering about Mayuri's delicious food; however, our confused photographer somehow managed to shoot the interior of another Indian restaurant—Mayuri's main competitor—just across the street. As if further proof were needed that a picture is worth a thousand words, the tasty Mayuri has since bit the dust, while its competitor, Banjara, lives on.
"YOU'RE DEAD" AWARD: It's not uncommon for writers to incorrectly identify people as being dead, then discover that they are very much alive. (Mark Twain's quip, "the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated," was inspired by just such a blunder.) It's more unusual for editors to add such references to copy. Former editor Fred Moody manfully owns up to killing off Seattle Art Museum Director Mimi Gardner Gates in our Nov. 12, 1998 cover story, "Who Really Runs Seattle?," because he confused her with Mary Gates, the late mother of Microsoft head Bill Gates. Mimi Gates recovered from this life-threatening ordeal.
SOME TRADE THINGY AWARD: If you're writing an article on screwups, it's only sporting to include one of your own. Take this prescient comment from the February 4, 1999 4th and James column, please: After noting that the 1999 World Trade Organization conference was coming to Seattle, I cheerfully added, "It's hard to figure why the person on the street would care." Some 50,000 people on the street proved me wrong.