Sometimes, you just have to laugh
Credibility is everything for any news organization. Our customers, the people who read this newspaper, depend on us to provide information that is accurate and objective.
That’s always our goal, but we’re human. Sometimes we make mistakes. Those mistakes often make me furious — at myself, most of the time — in the moment. After some time has passed, however, even I can sometimes see the humor.
Many years ago, I was a reporter at the newspaper in Pine Bluff when gas prices were surging and we had the idea to publish a local gas index — sampling the prices at various local stations to see which one had the lowest price and how those prices changed from week to week.
The first week, I went out and drove around town to about a dozen stations, carefully noting the name and address of each station along with their price for a gallon of unleaded. Surprisingly, one station was charging almost 20 cents less per gallon than their closest competitor! So I wrote it up and even made a chart of each station and their prices.
The next morning, the paper started getting phone calls. The station with the lowest price was closed. Had been for a few months. Oops.
A not-so-funny situation happened a few years later when a substitute teacher at a local school — and a member of a prominent family – was accused of inappropriate behavior with students. We sent a reporter and a photographer to the courthouse to get a story and photo when she appeared in court. The photographer sent in a photo of a woman sitting in court and identified her as the accused. It wasn’t her. I suppose I was innocent that time because it was the photographer’s error, but in the end it was my responsibility as managing editor. Fortunately, the woman we misidentified didn’t take any action against us. Still, it was a lesson learned.
Last year, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson ordered the state’s public schools to close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he announced the decision on a Sunday afternoon. School closings would be mandatory two days later, on Tuesday, and each district was given the option of closing on Monday. In an effort to be proactive, we decided to contact superintendents of the local districts to see if their schools would be open Monday. One of those superintendents was Matt Summers of Green Forest. I asked one of our reporters for his number, then texted him to ask about plans for school the next day. A while later, I got a text back saying there would be no school. We posted that information online and immediately received several comments saying it was incorrect. I could not understand what was going on until I got a call from Mr. Summers informing me that Green Forest would indeed be having school that Monday.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I discovered what happened: The number I’d been given for Mr. Summers was off by one digit, and instead of telling me so, the person who actually received my text had decided to have a little fun at my expense.
I apologized to Mr. Summers and was very humbled by his kind response.
Still, chalk it up as another lesson learned.
I’ll share one other story that might be a bit off topic but is one of the funnier memories from a 30-plus year career. In March of 1995, I had accepted an offer to leave my position as sports editor at the Pine Bluff Commercial to return to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports department, where I had worked from 1990 to 1993.
My last day in Pine Bluff was a Saturday, then I planned to take a week off before starting work in Little Rock.
That Saturday afternoon, my phone rang. “Where is the Toughman contest at?” the caller asked.
“It’s at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock,” I replied.
“Give me their phone number,” the caller said, in about that demanding a tone.
“I don’t have it, but you should be able to look it up,” I replied.
Yes, I could have found it for him, but I was working on deadline and he could find it just as easily as I could.
“No, you’re going to give it to me,” he said.
“Well, no, I’m not,” I replied. “Look it up yourself.”
“You have no idea who you’re talking to,” the caller said. “I promise, you won’t have a job on Monday.”
I couldn’t help myself. Technically, he was correct. I burst out laughing.
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, not even attempting to cover my laughter. “I won’t have a job on Monday.”