Does your newspaper have fleas?

November 2, 2015

By Ken Blum
Black Ink

If you’re scratching your head or any other body part, a flea in a newspaper is one of those little goofs or bad habits that irritates readers no end.

They lead to reader comments like, “The dummies down at the Bugle should go back to grammar school.” Or they create cute cutting nicknames that start to catch on around town—The Daily Messenger is dubbed, “The Daily Mistake”—The Weekly Hub becomes the “The Weekly Flub,” The Milltown Press is re-titled, “The Milltown Mess.”

Every newspaper has readers who experience nirvana-like delight in finding a faux pas in their local paper. I’ll bet you can think of a few in your town.

My newspaper career began with a real beaut. I was the fresh-faced editor of a weekly, and the first newspaper under my stewardship was hot off the press. The lead story was about a much-needed restaurant that just opened, quite an event in a small town hungry for fresh hamburgers.

I was looking over my new baby when I got to paragraph three, sentence two.

The sentence should have read, “Currently, thirty-two are employed for two shifts.”

Unfortunately, the “f” was missing from “shifts.” I swear a blood pressure surge popped my eyeballs out of their sockets.

And, oh yeah, there was another story on the page about the paper’s new editor.

Here’s hoping you never have a flea like I had to kick off my career. Thankfully, things improved over time, but I still run into people who treasure the clipping of that story like it’s their most precious family jewel. They laminate it. They glue it in scrapbooks. They tack it on their walls. They include it in their wills.

But let’s shift focus and get back to the fleas. Here are five of the most common that can get under my skin.

Flea No. 1: bad proofreading, such as a misspelling in a 48-point headline, or a missed word in a sentence like, “Ms. Miller enjoys cooking her family and her dog.”

A suggestion—have a local English teacher mark up your paper every week, in search of spelling or grammatical errors. One or two minor flubs are acceptable. Five or more is failing. One in a headline is an “F” for the whole paper.

Flea No. 2: No identifiers accompanying a picture. For example: here’s the state championship football team of 1998 having a reunion—12 men made it—and none are identified. Or, a picture page of seven or eight pictures taken of people having a good time at the town festival with no cutlines, much less identifiers. ALWAYS include who people are.

Flea No. 3: A front-page story with a jump line, “Continued on page 14.” Turn to page 14, and find the local grocery store’s full-page ad.

Flea No. 4: A classified page with absolutely no information about how to place a personal classified ad.

Flea No. 5: I can’t blame you or any other newspaper for this one, so it’s my personal flea. It concerns Social Security and Medicare being referred to as “entitlements” in news stories. Usually, the e-word carries the connotation of a dreaded socialistic government handout.


You’re paying for every penny of those so-called “entitlements”—7.65 percent of your paycheck, and your employer tosses in another 7.65 percent—usually, for more than 40 years.

So enough of the e-word. Call it an earned pension, an earned benefit—anything but the e-word.

So these are my fleas. I’m sure you have a few of your own. If so, pass them along. I’m itching to see them. © Ken Blum 2015


Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at; or phone to 330-682-3416.


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