The View from My Seat archives
Home

 

Published July 30, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

 

Editor’s mix-up caused famous restaurant big headache

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Stuff happens.

And when it happens at a newspaper it is not “fake news” or a Main Stream Media conspiracy. Mostly likely it is simply a goof.
The most memorable mistake in my 45-year newspaper career happened at the Houston Post in the early 1980s. The error wasn’t mine and it wasn’t significant in the grand scheme of things, but it was humiliating. Now, all these years later, I can chuckle about the mistake … and its timing.

Let me set the stage for you.

A Canadian company, the Toronto Sun, had purchased the Post from the Hobby family. We were all worried about our futures and were trying hard to impress the new owners.

The Canadians installed one of their own, Peter O’Sullivan, as editor-in-chief, and I was fortunate enough to be selected managing editor, the No.2 spot in the newsroom.

After several months, I was informed that Toronto Sun policy allowed Peter to take a 2-month sabbatical because he had put in 10 years with the company. He was going to Tahiti. Me? I would be in charge of a newsroom for the first time.

I was proud. And scared to death.

I thought my first day in charge went fine and was pleased as I read the finished product over breakfast the following morning. But then the phone rang. It was the new publisher. He was not pleased.

He informed me that our lifestyle section had run an “Ugly Dog Contest” in which readers were encouraged to call in that day and vote for the ugliest of four pictured dogs. The pictures had been submitted by readers. The problem: An editor had published the wrong phone number in the accompanying story instructing readers how to cast their votes.

As bad luck would have it, the incorrect published phone number belonged to a restaurant. Its staff was being swamped with phone calls. People actually trying to make reservations couldn’t get through.

The Post sent people to help answer the restaurant’s phones, and local media outlets feasted on poking fun at our mistake.
The publisher demanded to know how such a stupid mistake could happen. Although the boss in a newsroom seldom reads every story, I could tell he thought this wouldn’t have happened if Peter had been there.

What a way to start my reign! I rushed to the office and confronted the editor. He was remorseful and embarrassed.

Here is what happened. He had called the Post’s telecommunications people to get the phone number to put in the story. He jotted it down on a piece of paper.

It just so happens that on that same day he had made plans to celebrate his wedding anniversary. He had looked up the phone number of his favorite restaurant and jotted it down on a piece of paper.

You guessed it. In writing the story on how to vote, he had copied the number off the wrong piece of paper.

I won’t name the editor – journalistic statute of limitations – but I will say this about him: He may have been careless, but he had excellent taste in restaurants.

The restaurant number that ended up in the story was for the world famous Brennan’s.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)