Bee gives copy editors the cold sweats
It’s not that we don’t like spelling. Most copy editors love spelling, and many have their own fond memories of participating in childhood bees.
It’s that spelling bee stories are jinxed.
Consider our 2007 coverage of local champ Carolyn Lindsey, a two-time national bee contestant. In a story about how Carolyn prepared for her second trip to the bee, the reporter wrote:
“During a recent class lecture on indefinite pronouns, Carolyn said she pondered the spelling of ‘glossolaia,’ a noun that means speaking in tongues as part of a religious experience.”
The next day, The Free Lance-Star published this correction:
“The word ‘glossolalia’ was misspelled in an article yesterday about the national spelling bee. Here’s hoping local contestant Carolyn Lindsey fares better than we would have.”
Ha! Ha! Funny, right?
Just so you know, the word for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune is spelled
Spelling bee stories are jinxed not just because the words these bright youngsters spell onstage are so difficult. They’re jinxed because they magnetically attract every editing problem that can crop up in a regular news story—the typo, the misidentification, the repeated word, the punctuation gaffe, the garbled sentence.
I was on duty last night as we prepared our coverage of Drew Marino’s performance at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Drew, you probably know, is the Fauquier County teenager who won a sizzlingly contested regional bee in March for the chance to go to nationals. He acquitted himself well onstage at the national bee by correctly spelling “asthmogenic” and “virgule.” Alas, he didn’t advance to the later rounds. That’s mostly determined by a written test.
Before it got to me, the story had already been self-edited by the reporter, Katie Thisdell, and edited again by night editor Bill Tolbert, who then wrote the headlines. Photographer Bob Martin had written cutlines, photo chief Dave Ellis had looked them over, and Bill T. had edited them as well.
Now it was my turn. I took a deep breath. Drank some water. Said a little prayer. Then I read the story and all its associated elements once for meaning, once for fine points and once more in an out-loud whisper.
I caught a few of the typical problems that can crop up when so many people are involved in producing meaningful words and photos on deadline: The word “spelled” was spelled “spelld.” The contestant’s last name, Marino, popped up in one place as “Merino.” A definition needed tweaking.
When I felt I could do no more, I released the story to its fate.
The page proof arrived, and here was the deck headline:
13-YEAR-OLD SPELLS TWO
WORDS CORRECTLY BUT
TO TELEVISED ROUNDSQ
ROUNDSQ!?!? Where the heck did that Q come from? Where could it have come from?
Oh, my god, I bet it came from me!
I red-penned it out and then just sat there for a second, letting my heart rate return to normal. Then I read every last word one more time, just to be sure.
If there is a mistake in the story we published, please do not tell me for at least 48 hours.
And whatever else you do, do not write a jolly letter to the editor suggesting that perhaps The Free Lance-Star needs to hire a copy editor of a spelling bee contestant’s caliber to teach us all a thing or two.
I’m not saying I will hunt you down and hurt you. But you never know.