I hope you had a great holiday season! 2024 is here, hard to believe. I’m still trying to figure out if we are going to survive that W2K thing back when the dates switched from 1999 to 2000 in computer systems worldwide and nukes were supposed to blow us all up. Wasn’t that like last year?
I guess we are a few decades plus a few years past this concern now. How long did they promise that W2K emergency food supply was supposed to last when marketing survival foods on television?
How is it possible time flies like this? Let’s roll up our sleeves and make 2024 the best we can …
ALMOST A “SIN”LESS HOLIDAY SEASON
Those who knew me before I became a Christian in 1997 may view this title and think to themselves in a judgmental mindset, “I knew it would only be a matter of time before he returned to his old ways.”
Those who know me currently, despite inserting faith and a little bit of progress that comes with living life a few years, may think “Somebody cut him off in traffic again.”
Nope, none of that. I’ve written before about one of the best sermons I ever heard about a rough jagged rock being tossed into a river.
It doesn’t become smooth river rock overnight; it takes a very long time for rushing water to wear off those rough edges and make them smooth. I’m likely 5% into the process if I’m honest with myself.
This little story I’d like to share in this week’s column has to do with a long annual workweek, computer software, and the worst game of Scrabble ever.
Side note, I hate the word games everyone seems to be playing. When I squint at small text all day, every day, the last thing I want to do during my free time is sit at a board game and figure out how to manipulate words. Maybe when I retire this will be of interest.
When we publish news content daily, the traditional 52-week-a-year format allows for only a few precious time frames that we can essentially work ahead for some downtime.
While we can generally try to figure out a way for our team members to vacation, as owners, there is nobody behind us who can step in 100% and replace us.
For the first 15 years or so serving as publisher, I kept the long-term tradition of only publishing 49 editions per year, something prior owners did to lock down free time (vacation).
That became an issue, so we went “all in” which took away any/all vacation time. Fortunately, working remotely has become realistic and we have a pretty good system down now.
If I need to travel for business, I can work just about as easily from a coffee shop in Southern Georgia as I can from my workplace office and/or home office in Northwest Ohio. While I sometimes curse technology, it does have its advantages.
Our slower time in the summer months arrives “naturally” as school is out, sports coverage is tremendously slower, lower newspaper page counts per edition to publish, etc. The holidays, however, are a lot tougher.
We essentially work ahead as far as we can on both the Christmas and New Year’s editions, which turns into double shifts for a few weeks.
You can imagine as the finish line draws close and these two editions are done, it feels rewarding to work so hard on a project and see that hard work near its completion.
It is however also a time of being exhausted, accident prone, mistakes slip through, and well everyone can be a bit short-tempered.
This year was not as bad as past years, yet it was still very challenging. Maybe it is age, but all-nighters are nearly impossible anymore.
With my low sugar issues, which I’ve gabbed about in these columns before, the health front makes this difficult with low energy and now my eyes are going crazy on me (we will try to correct again in a week to adjust the glasses some more).
So, feeling physically and mentally a bit more worn out than normal, I was conducting the last “once over” of the Christmas edition on my computer screen. That is when I discovered the Christmas Edition nearly became “SIN”less.
Our newspaper edition bounces back and forth between designers, team members who edit content with fresh eyes, and my computers. It kind of feels like a ping-pong game.
Unfortunately, more than one person cannot work on the edition at the same time, so when I’m done, the edition file goes back to editing or designers, then it arrives back with my requested changes.
Sometimes the edition will bounce back and forth a dozen times or so. It is amazing, 4-5 people can look at the same pages over and over again, yet we will find a major typo last minute in a title, something formatted wrong, etc. last second.
I think if I had six months to edit our newspaper edition, some errors would still get through. When people critique us, or really any newspaper that publishes a typo, it is easy to become judgmental, but until walking a mile in our shoes and seeing how many moving parts there are, it is a miracle more errors do not occur.
We are human as well, something I remind people when they make a snarky social media post or call us to tell us the “error of our ways”.
Anyway, we made the best effort we could on the Christmas edition. One last review and the pages would be sent to the press, hallelujah! I was scrolling along fairly quickly and what caught my eye? Why does that title in 48-point font say “Houg” instead of “Housing”?
As mentioned, it is amazing how many times pages can be reviewed, if we come back the next day with fresh eyes we will see issues that we would swear were not present the day before.
But that was a big error – a red flag was raised. Then I found another title error, then a name I knew … all messed up.
A few minutes later one of my editors sent an email on how words were suddenly appearing in a different language. These words were correct in the edition within the last inner office update.
Now keep in mind, I have people in our team waiting on me to give the “all clear” on the edition and we have a print press and mailing team awaiting my final check off on the edition. So just a little bit of pressure exists to be timely.
But now I have one of our bigger editions of the year jacked full of errors and frankly, I have no idea what happened. We have used this software for a very long time, so long that I could probably teach a course on it at the local community college if needed.
I simply had/have no explanation for how all these words, whether in a title, within stories, police reports, or obituaries themselves, have suddenly appeared to scramble. I didn’t have the time for that problem and I was just too worn down to adequately problem-solve.
What happened? How do I fix this issue? Forrest, a reminder to self, sometimes you have to avoid looking at the overall war and focus on the battle right in front of you.
Oh ya, a reminder, you have “just a few” people waiting behind you who want to complete the edition so they can go enjoy time with their families for the holidays.
It took some choice words and childish behavior (privately in my home office) but a few hours later it was discovered that “SIN” was somehow scrubbed from the entire edition by our computer software. Every title. Every legal ad. Every sports statistic. Every obituary. Every word that appeared on any page, if it had the characters “SIN”, those characters were removed.
Now for those of faith, this could end up being a best-selling book if there was a successful means to scrub “SIN” from this worldly life, but for now, I will focus on this column.
Seriously, I have about a dozen sermons I think I could write based on the above statement. Moving on.
How do I fix this when we are already at our deadline for submitting pages to the press to begin printing? Obviously, large font/titles that look like a foreign language jumped out to me, but what about names in the sports section and obituaries? Words I cannot flag as being incorrect by software? Words that turning on spell check would not recognize.
If we revert back to the last rounds of corrections/additions to the newspaper edition we would lose around 12 hours of work (it was 6 p.m. at night, and the edition would essentially return to the condition it was in at 6 a.m. earlier in the day).
The room was spinning …
Businesses became Buesses
Single became Gle
Wisconsin became Wiscon
Casino became Cao
Showcasing became Showcasg
Nursing became Nurg
Want me to continue? Okay …
Trespassing became Trespasg
Missing became Misg
Addressing became Addresg
Since became Ce
Housing became Houg (the change that red-flagged this issue). Title: Housing Market Report – turned to – Houg Market Report
Using became Ug
Ceasing became Ceag
Praising became Praig
Losing became Log
Jaessing became Jaesg (Name)
Sintobin became Tobin (Name)
Singh became Gh (Name)
Do you get the point yet? Hundreds and hundreds of words scrambled. This became a “where’s Waldo” word search which may have been entertaining for some, but with the pressures of the deadline and frankly ready to sleep a half day to recover from day after day of double shifts with endless kids activities the rest of our free time, this issue needed to go away.
Truly, in the midst of a “SIN”less Christmas edition, I was trying to avoid manifesting sinful behavior front and center.
Like most software, with a few mouse clicks I can turn on a generic spell check that will underline words that the program thinks are spelled incorrectly.
This helped some with words like “Houg – Housing” but names were a nightmare to figure out. Word by word we searched and corrected the best we could.
What is frustrating is that we still do not know how or what happened to allow this. A guess for those nerds (like me) who use software all the time is a “replace all” feature may be been bumped telling “sin” to be fully replaced without any spaces. That is just a guess from hours of research and YouTube videos.
So it was nearly a “SIN”less holiday season. We think we caught most of the sinless void and returned it. However, we are not 100% sure. We did the best we could.
To my ministry friends and accountability partners, I apologize, I told you that you had your hands full when including me in your circle. Please keep me accountable and try to keep “SIN” from creeping back into my personal life, but for now at least, let’s keep it alive and well within the pages of The Village Reporter.