Q&A With the Chicago Tribune Editors Who Put a Cat on Their Homepage

Earlier today, visitors to the Chicago Tribune's homepage were greeted not with traditional lead story or splash image. Instead, there was an adorable kitty, a placeholder headline, and the word test over and over again. While it was a welcome break from the the usual gloom and doom, it was also very clearly a mistake. One that Trib Social Media and SEO Manager Amy Guth was kind enough to dissect for us over email.

Q: Some day! Let's start at the end. When did you first notice that there was an unsanctioned cat on your homepage?

AG: The digital editor at the helm of the site saw that our centerpiece was replaced with this ‘unsanctioned cat,’ and took it down immediately. This erroneously-positioned cat pushed down what should have been a story about the Chicago funeral of actor Dennis Farina, and sat beside several very serious stories including the judge ruling in the WikiLeaks case and the death of former US senator Harry Byrd Jr. It wasn’t our intention to make light of those important stories. We take the programming of our website very seriously, and we do regret the error.

Q: How long was it actually up? How long did it take between noticing it, taking it down, and finding the right intern to blame it on?

AG: A few minutes, in reality. The timestamp is related to when the content item is saved, and not when it was erroneously placed on the site. The digital editor on duty at the time saw the test story and took it down right away. We then sent a tweet letting our readers know everything was in order.

My colleague @ScottKleinberg commented on the original Gizmodo story, and I addressed some of the commentary through my own Twitter account. And, I tweeted a word of thanks to you for your good humor on our oversight. Oh, and we broke the news to the bosses. But rest assured, we do not let interns handle kittens.

Q: What was the actual culprit? A CMS quirk, an errant mouse click, a rogue copyeditor?

AG: We were doing a routine test in our CMS and generally make a effort to use inoffensive and innocuous placeholder text and images when testing. We spent the time immediately following the incident making sure this doesn’t happen again.

The photo is of a cat that had been featured in our “pets in need of homes” gallery, a photogallery to which local animal rescue organizations submit photos to help their rescued animals find homes. This cat, Benton, is up for adoption, though I now understand he’s become a very popular fellow in the hours since the front page error. Perhaps our mistake will at least turn into Benton’s good fortune.

Q: Why test test test instead of, say lorem ipsum or bacon ipsum or some other kind of ipsum?

AG: In this case, it was about speed; you know how it is— if you are testing many things at once or testing something quickly, it’s sometimes easier to just go “jsdhfksdjhfkasdhfk” or type out “test, test” and then copy/paste than it is to grab and re-grab ipsum text.

Q: Did you get any sort of traffic spike? Enough that you'd consider doing this again, perhaps with a puppy?

AG: It certainly seemed to do well on Gizmodo, but we removed the story so quickly that we didn’t see it translate into pageviews for us.

Q: You mentioned previously that the cat's name is Benton and that he's up for adoption. Could you drop a link for folks who might be interested in giving him a forever home?

AG: Gladly. Benton’s info can be found at PetFinder. He’s apparently a “little macho man” and kind of a player with the ladies.

Q: Question goes here. Test, test, test, test. Test, test, test. Test?

AG: I see what you did there. The bigger hurdle will be facing my Chairman Meow this evening when I get home. He gets jealous.

Sincerest thanks to Amy Guth and Scott Kleinberg for being such good sports about this. You can and should click on their names and follow them on Twitter.