Saturday, April 11, 2009
Bureaucracies Don't Laugh. People Do.
. . . A good laugh is a terrible thing to waste.
I was talking with someone yesterday who hadn't heard of the now-famous "Quorum of the Twelve Apostates" typo in a photo caption in a recent issue of Brigham Young University's student newspaper, The Daily Universe. The story even hit the national news; one nationwide radio report I heard began rather insightfully and with a slight bow to Plato, "Who Edits the Editors?" Yesterday's interlocutor may have been the last person in the valley to hear of it, but in case he was not, here's a lengthy article from BYU's NewsNet about it. If you read it, note these words:
If you read the article, be sure to savor student Marcie Anderson's commentary on lining bird cages, which requires no comment from me.
The Communications Department's formal statement does get a comment. The article quotes it:
I hope they also spend at least a few minutes reviewing their unfortunate tendency to split infinitives in formal statements.
I understand the proclivities of bureaucracies, where even the most trivial . . . anything . . . is a matter of grave seriousness. I also understand that genuine religous devotion can sometimes -- tragically -- manifest itself as utter humorlessness, where anything connected with one's church is concerned. Such is life. But join me for a moment, if you will, in imagining an alternate reality.
What if the managing editor or the department chair or the university president had said something like this instead?
As I said: an alternate reality.
Perhaps we can we agree that this is less harmful than cockroachs in the cafeteria, and that, where embarrassing things in BYU print are concerned, it's less grim than the classic Daily Universe headline of BYU folklore, "Student Volunteers Help Rape Victims."
Jenny Rader comments (4/10/09):
I was so relieved to read that you also saw some humor in the typo. While I used this example to illustrate to my sons the importance of careful proofing and paying close attention to detail (they are in sore need of many such examples), I could also easily see myself in the poor student's place. End of semester, finals, a deadline to meet -- I could quite naturally read apostates as apostles. That poor student will never forget it, nor will the rest of BYU, which makes such an error that much the worse.
I had hoped to see the administration see at least a little humor in the situation, but perhaps given the subject matter, that wasn't an option. You might consider tracking down the unfortunate student and emailing him/her a copy of your blog post. It might help relieve some stress to see that others view this as a humorous mistake. Then again, it might not. I'm still embarrassed about a single error in the final manuscript I sent to my editor 15 years ago, and since the copy editor caught the mistake, it clearly did not have a large audience.
Copyright 2009 by David Rodeback.