Several years ago I wrote a piece about the difficulties of working for print in terms of making an error as opposed to writing for “broadcast news”, which is more forgiving. You can get away with things in broadcast news and the general rule of thumb is to keep going if you make an error.
The principle behind it is that when you say something wrong … one third of the listeners didn’t really hear what you said at all. You are home free with them. There is another third that thought you said something wrong but aren’t quite sure. The final third heard what you said. They know you made an error but then it is a very fleeting thing. It is on to the next sentence, the next story and the one after that and by the end of the newscast … nobody remembers what you said at all.
That served me in good stead the time I inadvertently got the Pope’s name wrong going on in a story solemnly tolling out the words about who would succeed Pope Pius XXII, when in fact he had been dead for 30 years or more. The good news is I never got a letter about the broadcast. Not one. Print is not so forgiving because people have all the time in the world to read an article. If a sentence doesn’t sit well with them they can go back over it. If it isn’t structured properly it can be re-examined. That is where I have come to grief many times. People taking a second look. It’ll kill ya.
Remember last week in an article about the relationship between A.E Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, and his estranged son, Christopher Robin; I slipped and fell in the world of letters. I felt like the disgraced Rev Jimmy Swaggart proclaiming to his congregation in tears: “I have sinned my Lord”. Rev Jimmy’s sin had to do with getting caught paying prostitutes to undress for him in cheap motels. God doesn’t like that much I guess. Certainly congregations and contributors don’t.
To Err Is Human …
My sin wasn’t nearly so bad as Reverend Jimmy’s but; sinned I had. In my article I referred to the 100 Acre Wood in the Winnie the Pooh piece as the 1000 Acre Wood. I discovered my error late the next day as the Herald was going to press but I didn’t get the correction in on time and the article went to press and my ignorance laid bare for the whole world to read about and to laugh and mock.
The Herald hit the streets and my heart soared. Things were quiet. Not an e-mail; not a word. I looked at The Herald at the supermarket checkout and there was the error; a big as life… the 1000 Acre Wood. Still there is only the great silence, but I stand with Jimmy Swaggart … disgraced.