Avoiding Stupid Mistakes With a Checklist

This happens every year – someone’s kid gets left on a hot bus for hours. It’s inexcusable because it’s dangerous and it’s such an avoidable mistake! I heard about the first one of the year this morning as I listened to 1010 WINS. It made me think — a simple checklist would fix this problem.

Seriously – how many of you think…”I could NEVER leave a kid on a bus by mistake”?  But guess what… it happens all the time! And the reason it happens is because we are so distracted with everything else going on in our lives that we forget the easy stuff.

Picture It…An Avoidable Mistake

My very first TV job was at WLNY-TV 55 on Long Island. I was an intern in 2001 and then hired as a writer while I finished up my degree at Hofstra University. Random fact: It’s where I met my hubby, Jay, and also my best friend, Danielle! One night at the station will live on in infamy – all because of a stupid, avoidable mistake.

That night – the main anchor was on vacation. So one of the reporters was filling in for him on the 11pm newscast. By day we were interns and writers…by night we were tape operators (yes there were still tapes then,) teleprompter operators and camera operators!

That fateful night the clock struck 11 and camera 1’s red light went on. We were live. The fill-in anchor read the show open perfectly – and then — she turned to camera 3 as scripted. Except – there was no script! Eeeek – an anchor’s nightmare – no teleprompter!

She stumbled and looked down at her paper scripts. She scrambled and bumbled to make it look like nothing was wrong. But it was obvious to her, to the viewers and everyone involved in the production that something went awry.

That night during our “post-mortem” meeting the anchor threw the camera operator right under the bus. It wasn’t pretty. Turns out an intern was on camera 3 that night and forgot to turn on the teleprompter. Boy – did that not go over well.

The next day there was an announcement from our news director. “Everyone must fill out a checklist before operating a studio camera!” As you can imagine – this idea was met with eye rolls and groans. But we did it. Every one of us filled out this form before the show:

  • Turn on teleprompter
  • Set tilt
  • Set drags
  • Check focus
  • Check-in on headset

These are all very easy things to do. They take literally two seconds each. But it’s easy to get distracted and not do one of them. And as we all saw – that can be a disaster. Surgeons and pilots use checklists in their work – so why not add one to your every day tasks to be more efficient?

What activity would a checklist make more effective for you?

(Btw — the intern was not me! But maybe the next time I tell the story I’ll say it’s me – just for dramatic effect!)


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7 replies
  1. Laura DeAngelis
    Laura DeAngelis says:

    Ah, those doozies in the newsroom do make for good blog posts! I enjoyed your story – especially since it’s just another example of why lists work no matter what! I’m having fun catching up on the posts I missed while on vacation – great stuff!

  2. jeremiah johnson
    jeremiah johnson says:

    Having been a paramedic for 28 years I have become very used to lists. In my profession we use lists for practically everything. However, I was the worlds worst for not making a “things to do” list in my everyday life, and it showed. I have recently implemented the use of lists in my daily life and only wish I had done this years ago. I used to forget to do things that I know were important but throughout the coarse of the day, some of the things would slip my mind. Thankfully now that is no longer an issue. Thanks for the informative post.


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