Saturday, December 25, 2004

For Dec. 26, 2004. Let's get with it, project committees, only five more days to slap out that thumbsucker and troll for that Pulitzer Prize, warns the Burned-Out Newspapercreatures Guild, and this is BONG Bull No. 661!

HOT OFF THE PRESSES. While they last, the Newsgorilla store has added a 16x20 poster print of the famous watercolor poster "The Editor" to the inventory. The price is a mere $17.99, a fraction of the price of the original. See it at

A HEARTFELT CONFESSION. While we're on the subject of ethics and in the spirit of starting the new year right and of joining the growing corps of journalism careers ruined by transgressions – phony quotes, plagiarism (New York Times crossword puzzle hint: copied copy?) and stuff like that – Charley Stough, the Chief Copyboy of BONG, has a confession:
I have fabricated horoscopes.
It was the 1970s, when computer editing systems were rudimentary (at least ours was at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News) and syndicates sent stuff by mail. Sometimes we didn't have the horoscope. A few times we published editor's notes saying sorry, no horoscope. But it didn't matter how sorry we were, we got angry phone calls demanding to know what the horoscope would have said. Sometimes we would have the syndicate stuff by then, or sometimes we would read it to the callers from another paper. If memory serves, the angriest callers, the most paralyzed by the lack of guidance from the syndicate, the most frightened to go out of the house without a horoscope, were born under Sagittarius. Draw from that what significance you will.
Anyway, finally, one day without the horoscopes in hand, I told the slot guy I would handle it. No phone calls for us tomorrow. No readers reeling in anger, confusion and fear. All would find a helping hand from the Dayton Daily News.
And I faked it.
Well, not exactly faked it. If you look at what newspaper horoscopes say, you'll admit it's pretty soft stuff. They never tell you to go ahead and marry the preacher's daughter or to take that job in Cheboygan. They don't say what to name the baby nor whether to let the chimney go another winter without sweeping. They say general stuff like "Be careful with money" or "Enjoy unplanned challenges." So OK, I reasoned, what is there about Sagittarians today that they should be careful with their money but those Virgos don't have to count their change? Let's go into the dead type and move last Tuesday's Cancer to tomorrow's Libra, and so on. Taurus, it's your turn to balance your checkbook, and Pisces to get the message from afar. It was before the Do Not Call list. Everybody got messages from afar.
Presto. Public service committed, the horoscopes delivered, the readers happy, no one the wiser, the phones quiet. Well, not quiet. People still called to ask who won the 1948 Stanley Cup or the 1961 World Series (when my friend Jon Miller got those he just said Baltimore). But nobody had to read the Cincy Enquirer horoscopes to anybody.
I faked the horoscopes two or three times. We merged with the other paper. We got a new computer system. Then we got another one. We may have changed syndicates. Years passed. I became a columnist.
It was a long time before another horoscope was missing, and then one day there on the comics page, where the horoscopes should be, there was a black-bordered box saying it was missing. Even the dumbest horoscope believer could see it was gone, but we had to lay a big black splotch on the page to make sure everyone knew we had blown it.
I asked at the copy desk, "Hey, don't you guys remember how to handle that?" and one or two rim editors said sure they did. But in the merger we had acquired an assistant city editor who believed in New Age crystals and messages from space and flute music in the bathtub and, apparently, horoscopes. He had raised a fuss, so we weren't going to run any untruthful horoscopes. Even if the movie reviewer wrote all his Oscar-nominations stories in the first person, the zeitgeist was trending toward not deceiving Dayton Daily News readers.
So as far as I know, no one at that paper ever faked a horoscope except me. Brutally cut them to one sentence. Left out tomorrow's winning lottery numbers or the map to the downtown parking meter stuck since July on 51 minutes. But for bogus horoscopes, I'm a solo act.
And then in 1997 the famous horoscope writer Jeanne Dixon died. Didn't tell anyone she was going, just checked out. So OK, that's two fakers. But while I still have time to confess, I'm confessing. So there, despise me!

SPELL-CHECKING LEWIS CARROLL. San Antonio (Texas) Express-News copy editor Andy Thomas ran "Jabberwocky" through a CCI spell-checker. Here is a verse of the original, followed by the corrected version. (Where the spell-checker made no suggestions, the word is omitted.)

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
'Twas brisling, and the stilly toes
Did gyre and gamble in the wade.
All missy were the ***,
And the mamma rates ***.'

COMIX SECTION. The Further Adventures of Herman "Speed" Graphic, Ace Photographer for the Chagrin Falls Commercial Scimitar, and his Faithful Companion, Typo the Wonder Pig.
PANEL ONE: The Deft Duo consider the size of their merit raise and ponder what went wrong. Typo enumerates, "...Well, challenging the News Editor to name one local hospital or two bartenders without looking at the Rolodex, that demoralized the deskers, Boss!"
PANEL TWO: Speed agrees, "Yeah, that was a good one, Typo! And how about when I challenged the Design and Redesign Committee to state the difference between Pantone T-19 Opaque Offset and Shinola?"
Typo admits, "That too."
PANEL THREE: Speed cheers, "Or how about bringing back the Third Place trophy from the Chagrin Mud Run! No staff car had ever made higher than Eighth until then!"
Typo declares, "Any other staffer would've seen his photo hung in the elevator, Boss!"
PANEL FOUR: Speed demands, "And just name anybody who ever cleared a meeting room quicker than when I ...!"
Typo interrupts, "A remarkable feat, Boss!"
PANEL FIVE: Warding off the chill with his trenchcoat, a deathbed gift from an ancient mystic wire service executive editor on a fog-shrouded eastern island, Speed looks at his pay stub and wonders, "So I wonder how come they did me like this, Typo?"
Typo reassures, " 'Attitude,' Boss! They always cover up their fear with that silly bureaucratic meaningless word, 'attitude!' "

BONG Bull is a production of Burned-Out Newspapercreatures Guild Chief Copyboy and San Antonio (Texas) Express-News copy editor Charley Stough, an eight-time national Hearst headline contest winner. E-mail Visit the News Gorilla store at .