Possibly the most famous newspaper headline blunder was made by the Chicago Tribune of November 3 1948, which bannered “Dewey Defeats Truman”.
When the decision to print the paper was made, returns from the US election were coming in very slowly and time was running out before the deadline for the edition. The Tribune staff, based on the early returns, decided Dewey would be the next president. After the newspaper was delivered to the street, more returns came in and showed that Truman would be the ultimate winner and be re-elected as president. The already delivered “error” newspapers were gathered for return by staff members sent out to pick them up from newsstands and homes in the Chicago area. Not all were collected, however, and the photo of the victorious President Truman holding the paper aloft has become iconic.
While clearly nowhere near as disastrous as that, I was amused this morning to find that the Weekender newspaper dated 25 April 2009 has made a similar mistake by “calling” the results of the Western Cape poll prematurely.
“DA reports to coalition for control of the Cape” says the headline, and the story goes on to say:
“Intense negotiations between political parties in the Western Cape are on the cards as they try to forge coalitions of sufficient strength to take control of the province. The horse-trading will be necessary because of the Democratic Alliance’s failure to win an outright majority in the province…”
Hmmm. Ooops. With 51,33% of the vote in her handbag, Ms Zille is now to be premier of the Western Cape, regardless of what coalition she manages to forge. Of course she may still decide to enter into an alliance with other parties, but the point is she doesn’t have to. She has won.
I’m surprised the Weekender got it so wrong. As a Cape Town resident I have been watching the results closely for the past 36 hours. And for most of them the party hasn’t dipped below 50% at all and, when it did, it was only for a short while. If they wanted to err on the side of caution they should have printed the opposite story “Majority seems likely for the DA” would have been a more accurate, safer and, as it turned out, correct headline.
Just shows the perils of old media who should, in an age where there is instant news all around us, capitalise on their one biggest strength — offer great insight and detailed analysis. In a rolling news environment when a story is still live when you go to print, don’t take any chances because it gives new media pundits the chance to ridicule you and tweak your nose. Tweak tweak.