Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Try a little tenderness

When I set my sights on a career path winding its way through the flowery field of journalism, I pictured myself sallying forth, pen and notepad in hand, on a daily quest to bring important truths to the attention of my fellow citizens, inspiring change with my ever improving prose and taking photos of the fascinating and adorable on the occasional slow day.


While I am ever the optimidealist, my current position doesn't exactly line up with my aspirations.

Obviously that's fair enough. If I started at the top there'd be nowhere to go but to make my way to where I am now. I'm extremely grateful that not only do I have a job, but I have a job that I trained for and that I actually enjoy.

But one of the things they fail to highlight in J-school is that for every person who invites you, the small-town reporter, to their grandma's 140th birthday party, there are 50 more cursing the day you were born at any given moment. And about half of them are going to call you and tell you so. A quarter will wait until they are a nice shade of purple rage and then show up at your office.

And hey, some of their complaints are even legitimate.

More often though, they are annoyed that the photo of their giant mutant squash or possibly rare bug didn't make it into this week's edition.

What gets me though, is the depth of some people's anger over things that, in say, two days time, they will probably have forgotten forever. I mean, is your life really so amazing that a typo in a newspaper is the worst thing that's ever, ever happened to you, your family or a close friend?

Of course, I don't take lightly our job as editorial staff members to make sure that the articles we run contain accurate information to the best of our ability. And believe me, there are few things more humbling than seeing your mistakes in 12pt Helvetica and knowing that not only did others see them, but that they all have the option of framing each one and starting their very own hall of shame gallery dedicated to you.

However, we are human, and with fewer and fewer people, doing the work of more and more, being employed in editorial departments, mistakes are bound to slip through.

The smug superiority and/or venom with which many people choose to bring such mistakes to our attention, indicates to me that rather than taking this into consideration, they have determined, without taking a moment to try and understand how something as evil and appalling as a misspelled name could possibly have made it past us, they have already determined that we are a) Weird, malicious practical jokers who love to spread misinformation, b) Pathetically stupid, or c) both.

Last week a woman actually asked my editor if she owned a dictionary, and then informed her that it was impolite to brag, when my editor mentioned that she studied journalism at University, while defending her use of the word in question.

Everyone thinks they could do it better.

It's not all bad news (heh). Watching how people choose to state their case, and the reactions they elicit from myself and my co-workers is always a good reminder to take a second and re-evaluate in situations where my first instinct is to fly off the handle and denounce everyone in sight as morons or evildoers.

And, if upon further reflection, that initial diagnoses seems to hold true, even morons and evildoers respond better to a smile.

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