Sunday, March 05, 2006

Flashback to October 1998, with a passing reference to one of Bill Clinton's troublesome issues. Classie Corner the newspaper column is 25 years old. Classie Corner the website celebrates with another blast from the past.

GRRRR! Growling about gremlins is part of life for us in the media. Like the politicians strutting the stage of public life, we bare ourselves for public scrutiny, showing our faults big and small.
A newspaper I edited in the 70s had a fearsome member of staff. The Chief Gremlin, Miss Print, became regrettably well known to readers.
We found a little solace from the humiliation of "stuffing it up" by asking the readers to keep their sense of humour despite our mistake, and ran corrections attributing the blunder to her.
This was way before sexism in language became a consideration for publishers and their "family". Nowadays we'd have to look for a Mister Letteroutofyaname, or similar, for balance, keeping in mind obligations toward non-sexism and multiculturalism.
That 70s experience comes back to me now because of my mistake the other day of typing what I though was Golf World but actually sending readers to the business pages to check the price of a precious metal.
Other clangers that recently ruined my breakfast included calling one of my favourite Sunshine coast esplanades an "avenue", making an avenue from a Maroochy north shore street, and dropping the final letter "p" from the word "poop" when it mattered.
In newspapers we know how much our bloopers aggravate readers because the typos, grammatical blunders, ignorant statements and apparently mindless cock-ups aggravate us far more.
So why does it happen? Why aren't media workers fault free, like politicians or others?
Over the years I've seen a lot of responses from my workmates when facing up to mistakes. "At least we can be assured our paper is well read." Or, "By making mistakes, we are meeting a market; a whole world out there combs papers looking for mistakes; they need us."
But everyone knows, a mistake in the paper stands out like the stain on a certain office girl's dress. And still on the political analogy, we in the media often become like Miss Print: the one deemed responsible for the mistakes of others.
But then, it was our obligation to check, wasn't it? And, why didn't someone pick it up?
The answer is in the evolution of publishing that has thrown off a lot of inefficiencies of decades past. As recent as 1980, before a landmark industrial dispute the major publishers in this nation were locked into primitive industrial hierarchy that would see a reporter's story pass through about 10 stages before the press ran. At probably seven stages it was open to revision or at least questioning by someone with specific responsibilities.Nowadays, for this column at least, I can commit directly to print and I have no one to blame but myself. Of course, different disciplines throughout the run of the paper mean that revisions and checks are in place in other areas. But our whole system is built around taking responsibility for your actions and your jurisdiction and not passing off the problem to the equivalent of Miss Print or other people in the chain.
In my own case I take some heart from comments by Judge Michael Kirby when an ABC reporter tried to take him on over judges making mistakes. The judge asked the reporter whether anyone could claim not to have made a mistake. The reality of life was that people sometimes made mistakes, the judge said.
And a great article on time management in our magazine, Sunshine Coast Business, this year has great relevance on the subject of mistakes. The article did not need to mention the word once. It simply cited "tyranny of the urgent" as one of the biggest obstacles facing efficiency in the workplace. I'm hunting up my copy as I write.
We all have had our share of dealings with the Chief Gremlin. Take the Brisbane linotype operator who long ago inserted an extra character in an classified ad for a boarding house and created what still is probably the most frowned on word in the English language. A proof reader missed that one.
In the world of classified advertising an annual general meeting has been known to do the full monty as a "genital" occasion, and the public meeting to drop an "l".
A final read saved one operator the humiliation of farewelling a police officer to "a cone a day" instead of the scone that fellow cops knew as a special treat.
The only consolation we have in the media may we stop a hell of a lot of mistakes as well as make them. And unlike certain politicians we don't need to be flame grilled before we admit them. What's the point? We're only human.

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