Headline mistakes in a story can be a distracting ‘rat’s nest’

The error isn’t always big, just big enough to draw attention away from the other 99%
July 22, 2022

Today’s column is not what I had intended on writing about, but I’m quickly learning that I have more thoughts running around my head than space for one specific column.

I made a pretty basic math mistake on a front-page story of this past Tuesday’s paper. It was the type of mistake that is more embarrassing than it is wrong. Don’t get me wrong; I know the headline was wrong, but the general context of the story, it wasn’t the worst mistake ever made. It said an increase was being considered for something, which is correct. The specific increase was wrong. As soon as reader David pointed out the seventh-grade math mistake, I fixed it online and there’s a correction in today’s paper.

The error got me thinking of a former boss named Mike that I had for my summer job during my five years in college. Yes, five years and no master’s or doctorate, which, in part, probably explains why I made the mistake to begin with.

Moving on … I thought of Mike because he owned a poured concrete wall foundation company. For those five summers, I spent many hours in the woods and in local communities of coastal Maine helping to put in hundreds of foundations – many of them “log cabins” like the “beach cottages” being built around here.

It wasn’t a glamorous job, but Mike took pride in the finished product, and he wanted those walls square, plumb and level for the general contractor to build on. If a 40-foot-by-80-foot foundation was too far out of square by the time all four sides connected, we were taking a 6-foot pry bar and moving all those panels until it was square. Correction ... his son Tyler and I were moving the panels, while he stood on the staging because he was holding the 100-foot tape.

Mike was a good guy to work for, but he was an old-school foundation guy. That means the majority of the panels we used were made of highly processed wood that stood 8 feet tall, were 2 feet wide, 2 inches thick, and weighed 100 pounds after the steel bars and clips were added onto the outside. The bars and clips allowed the panels to connect.

One of his pet peeves was to see what he called “rat’s nests” after the concrete hardened enough for us to begin pulling panels. His definition of a rat’s nest was when the liquid in the concrete hadn’t fully encased the rocks of a certain area in the concrete. When this happened, and the panel was pulled off, a rough, rocky finish was revealed instead of a smooth, gray finish. Mike hated to see a rat’s nest, especially if the nests appeared in the section of the foundation above grade level, because they are extremely noticeable.

The family and I were recently walking by a construction project underway in one of the local communities, and I noticed one of these rat’s nests. My wife has met Mike – when in Maine, he’s one of the folks I like to see. I told her Mike would be losing his mind about that rat’s nest because it was so visible. She said to keep moving because the kids’ ice cream was melting.

To prevent those nests from happening, Mike made us stand on the outside staging, plunging the concrete with a heavy-duty gardening hoe the whole time the concrete was flowing out of the drum of the truck. Think churning butter.

These nests didn’t happen often – I could count on one hand the number of times during those five summers – but when they did, Mike was not happy. If he saw one, it was always time for him to go smoke a cigarette – even if it was one of the weeks he had quit smoking. Most of the time, he came back fine. Sometimes, he did not. He wasn’t even necessarily mad at his employees, just extremely annoyed about the nest.

In many ways, a mistake in the headline of a story is like these rat’s nests. The majority of readers start and stop with the headline and the opening paragraph. If there’s an immediate mistake, like a rat’s nest or a problem in a headline, it’s a distraction from the very beginning and it’s tough for people to focus on the other 99% of the finished product. It’s such a preventable type of mistake that I will be thinking about it for way too long. It’s so annoying to me that I scrapped another column in an attempt to get some of this out of my head.

Joke of the Week:

Friend Jeff, a father of three, sent this one in. He’s been a regular texter of jokes. He is definitely a dad joke type of guy. As always, unless you know my cellphone number, send joke submissions to

Joke: Do they allow loud laughter in Hawaii? Or just a low ha? 


  • Chris Flood has lived in or visited family in Delaware his whole life. He grew up in Maine, but a block of scrapple was always in the freezer of his parents’ house during his childhood. Contact him at

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