Johnny Anger
Johnny Anger

Shirt happens

The first email plopped into my inbox at 7.03pm. It was from the National Prosecuting Authority and the subject line was “Serial rapist found guilty”.

“Justice George Maluleka,” read the statement, “has been found guilty of raping 57 women. He is by far one of the worst serial rapists in this country. He had caused human savagery for far too long. The long arm of the law finally caught up with him.” The law didn’t need a long arm to find Judge Maluleka, I thought; he was sitting on the High Court bench the whole time.

At 7.53pm, just as I had finally managed to lift my jaw off the ground, a second email from the NPA landed in my inbox.

“Please take notice that the statement is inaccurate in so far as it refers to Justice George Maluleka as the person found guilty of rape. Justice Maluleka was in fact the presiding officer. I apologise sincerely for the error,” wrote the NPA’s Tlali Tlali.

I bet at the instant that Tlali Tlali hit “send email” he wished life came with a Control-Z function so that he could automatically undo his blaps. Journalists come with Control-Z functions — we’re called sub-editors.

Yes, sometimes things go wrong (like a Solly Kramer advert on a page with a feature on a rehab centre). However, we have also managed to stop a number of reporters’ blapses, bloopers and blunders from finding their way into Grocott’s Mail this year.

Here are some that were caught in the subs’ net before making it into the paper.
“The HIV/Aids infection rate needs to be halved by 50% by 2011,” wrote one scribe. Er, can you halve something by, say, 37%?

In our bid for accuracy, we asked our reporters to insert the word “correct” after a person’s name so that we would know they had double-checked the spelling. The reporters agreed. The next day a story with Crail (correct), Craile (correct) and Craille (correct) was filed. There may be many ways to skin a cat, but there seems to be at least three ways to spell a Crail (Craile, Craille).

In a story about how pupils solve problems when the teachers are out of the classroom, our reporter wrote: “One learner goes to the library in town to find books with more information, another puts an asterix next to the problem so he can ask his teacher when she comes back.” If you put an Asterix next to the problem, where do you put an Obelix?

Also, we were told that students waiting to see if they had won awards for their business innovations were on “tender hooks”. A tender hook?

In a story about a break-in at a school, our reporter wrote: “The school’s night watchman, who works only during the day, discovered the break-in.” So who works at night? The day watchman?

We also learned that the Grahamstown police’s stock-theft unit is shirt staffed. Shirt happens, I suppose.

And then there was this gem from a journalism student reporter: “Wordfest is back again this year with a bang to celebrate the written, spoken word and to stimulate literatecy across various ages.” If there’s one word you should spell correctly in a story about literacy, it’s “literacy”.

In a story about how the National Arts Festival benefits the local economy, a reporter wrote: “The manager of Evolution says they employed six people from Grahamstown and two casualties.” Now we know why Evolution’s service is a bit slow.

We received a letter congratulating the municipality for doing an outstanding job during the festival. Guess who the letter was from? Correct. It was from the municipality, but that’s not why it gets a mention in this column. Thandy Matebese, Makana’s spin doctor, wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the municipality of Makana for ensuring that the festival ran smoothly without any major hick-ups.”

We know there were many hicks who came to the festival, but really, Thandy.

Some boobs are caused by the Freudian slip of the keyboard. A story about a Rhodes graduation ceremony quoted Fried Hendricks. The reporter presumably thinks the dean of humanities is a hot dish. More Freudian slips saw a reporter write about the Women’s Day pubic holiday and our photographer submitted a photograph with the caption “Guy f**ks day”. Er, lucky Guy.

In a story about the Grahamstown Bowling Club celebrating its centenary, the bowling club became the blowing club. What has it been blowing for the last 100 years? Bubbles? Er, lucky Bubbles.

In a rugby column, our sports reporter wrote about the joy when David-sized schools beat Goliath-sized schools. “Victories to the smaller schools do happen, not as often as some would like, but that is why the victories are so much sweatier.” Rugby victories are sweaty affairs.

At a news diary meeting, I asked the reporter what he planned to cover for the main sports story on the page. “Well,” he answered, “there’s a triangular tennis tournament going round.” A triangular tournament going round? Is that like a round editor going square?