I went for my usual morning dip into the New York Times online edition yesterday and was immediately attracted to the news that Toyota's chief executive officer Akio Toyoda had finally made an appearance to explain what his company was doing to extricate itself from the public relations nightmare of its sudden acceleration problems.
I clicked on the link and began reading the lead: "The president of Toyota apologized at a hastily arranged hers conference Friday night for the quality problems that led to the recall…" (emphasis added). I read it again; my eyes aren't what they used to be, I thought. But there it was. I finished reading the story and sought the Comments button. Quoting the lead, I asked, "What's a "hers" conference? Is it anything like a news conference?"
To their credit, the editors at the Times shortly did their job a bit more thoroughly this time and changed it to news conference.
Everyone makes mistakes; that's why we have copy editors (or at least we used to). That function, sadly, has fallen into disrepair from a lack of practitioners as wave upon wave of layouts and buyouts sweeps over newspapers. Even with a full staff, this one's hard to swallow. It's the lead of a major story, not paragraph 10 of an inside page snoozer. And it's the New York Times, for God's sake. It would appear the editing was as "hastily arranged" as the news conference. Doesn't anyone actually read copy any longer?
Here's my theory on how the error occurred: on the keyboard, since "h" is immediately above and slightly to the left of "n" and "r" is to the right of "e" while "w" is to the left, it's just a case of Misguided Fingers, the bane of writers everywhere – particularly those on deadline. But that doesn't excuse the copy editing nonfeasance.
Since Akio Toyoda is a man, at least they could have called it a "his" conference.