We very often only hear from people when we get something wrong.
I think it’s because in people’s busy lives, they usually only get stopped in their tracks long enough to write to the paper when they are incensed about something.
When it’s a subject of great import or a particularly controversial topic, we’re ready for it.
But this week I got an even more demoralizing communiqué than normal. It wasn’t demoralizing because we’d made a horrible mistake in print, it was demoralizing because it was just so incredibly petty.
I read thousands upon thousands of words every week of editorial copy, including stories by reporters, letters, columns and more. It’s part of my job to knock it into the best shape possible for print. This means correcting errors and making sure the text is clear and understandable to readers. I don’t always catch all of the mistakes. Mea culpa. Teachers in school dubbed me a “creative speller”. I love spell check. But still, inevitably, errors do get printed.
Everybody makes mistakes; the difference in the newspaper business is that mine are public, for everyone to see.
So when people tell me I suck because I missed a typo or some such, ignoring the really good job we did on the important story on the next page, it makes me heave a sigh.
This week, I got an anonymous letter from someone. It was a print-out of a short piece about an upcoming event. There were two errors in it and one in the caption.
The writer had helpfully circled them in red and drawn big lines so as, I can only surmise, to make me feel as much as possible like a grade school student looking at a failed exam. One of the errors I already knew about, as a glitch had made it so the correction of it had failed to save. The others were a little embarrassing, perhaps, but not of major import. This grading of my work was accompanied by the equally helpful text “This is unbelievable incompetence. You have one job: research and report the news at a high school level or better. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be publishing a newspaper.” In short: “You suck.”
I’m not entirely sure what the writer was hoping to accomplish by sending this to me, and, incidentally, a copy to my boss, but they sure have a lot of time on their hands.
The writer didn’t even have guts to sign it. Next time, maybe consider how you can make someone’s day brighter, rather than being the dark cloud. It’s now been filed where it deserves — the recycle bin.