To err is human; foregiveness is nice if you can get it

Monday, October 22, 2012

As everyone knows, one "Aw hell!" cancels out a dozen "Attaboy!"s. That is one difficulty running for public office based on your record; although everyone may not keep a tally sheet of any good work you've done, they will certainly remember the last time you stuck your foot in your mouth.

It's also a problem writing for the media, where time is short and deadlines loom

A wise man once said it is better to make a mistake and then own it than not to make the mistake at all, because in the former situation at least you get the chance to learn something.

There is always ample opportunity to screw up working in the media, whether it's writing an editorial too quickly or mis-identifying a photograph or simply letting an item of news that should make the paper that week fall through the cracks.

Too many people, too many photos, too many cracks, and all whirling in real time at a high rate of speed which starts as soon as one edition comes out and ends in a fever-pitch the day the next one goes to press, at which time everyone takes a deep breath and relaxes for a minute, then starts looking around for the next headline.

By then, of course, it's too late.

To say "there's nothing personal" in such gaffes may be true, but so what. We are all people, and most of us do the best we can, given our particular abilities and viewpoints, and we all can get our feelings hurt when something written for an audience of 6-7,000 people hits the stands in blazing black and white, that we feel isn't correct, or ill-thought-out, or that slants things too much one way or another.

In theory, and it must be this way in practice as well, the ultimate responsibility for the contents of the paper rests on the shoulders of its editor. Regardless of whether it was the editor personally who crossed a line or forgot to cross it, the editor is responsible for the contents -- and if it's a small town newspaper like the Citizen, there's a 50/50 chance it was the editor personally who did write it. But either way, the buck stops at that desk. (In reference to a recent comment about unsigned editorials, traditionally editorials are unsigned unless by a guest writer; if it's unsigned, the editor wrote it.)

Although good intentions don't make up for mistakes -- the road to hell is paved with that kind of brick -- the writer and/or editor of a paper always hopes enough of the intent gets through with the minimal amount of error for the reader to understand what's meant, and therefore be informed or entertained, and not upset to distraction instead. Perhaps that is just an ideal goal, though sometimes one is driven by the axiom that "possible is better than perfect," to quote the great Bukowski.

It doesn't always happen. Sometimes it does. When it doesn't, printed facts can be corrected or redacted, as necessary.

Opinions, however, are exactly that, and in the case of subject matter for editorials, or the various other aspects of a paper's operation that fall outside the purview of "just the facts, ma'am," you buys the ticket and you takes the ride. "This is what I think about this." Sometimes what you think about an issue is shared by a few, sometimes by a lot of people, sometimes none.

Whether or not one's views are unanimously approved, they remain one opinion in a town of many.

All you can do is try to be clear in your thinking, to write well enough to convey your point, and to try to know as much as you can about every situation so you don't inadvertently make things worse in trying to make them better.

And when that doesn't work, all you can do is hope for understanding once tempers have settled and that issue of the paper has become good for fishwrap if nothing more.

Opinions are like noses: everybody's got one. Friendships are rarer.

To err is human; forgiveness

is nice when you can get it

This week's Citizen of the Week is Alderman Ken Pownall. His nominator puts it this way: "Mr. Pownall has spent years devoting his time volunteering on any number of committees and commissions, most recently on City Council. A lot of his energy has gone into trying to untangle the mare's nest of city code, for example his recent collaborative work on the sign ordinance. Lest anyone think a sign ordinance is not important, drive through any city of any size without one. Much of this work does not seem exciting to the average person, but without it the quality of life here would certainly be diminished for all of us. There are 1,001 unseen factors at work at all times in our civic lives, and as is often the case, much work is done by a committed few." Thank you Mr. Pownall.