No one likes to be wrong, but the YS editorial staff absolutely abhors it. It’s a serious problem. It’s to the point of abnormality, usually involving super nerdy topics like verbs and AP style.
Recently, as an example, associate editor Lacy “Ace” Boggs and I got into a knock-down-drag-out fight debating the usage of “Coloradan” versus “Coloradoan.” There were raised voices, veiled threats and bruised egos. The rest of the office just listened in confused awe as we battled it out, nerd against nerd.
If a mistake makes it into the magazine—if there is a misspelling or ridiculously conjugated verb or a wacky metaphor that doesn’t make sense—things get even more tense. I usually have to leave the office, get a breath of fresh air and repeat a self-assuring mantra.
While we’ll admit when we are wrong, we truly don’t take mistakes lightly.
So when I looked at the cover of the June issue—after it was already printed and delivered—rage rolled through my veins.
Firey or fiery? Um, hello!?!?
Why didn’t we spell-check the cover? Why didn’t I notice the mistake during the 15 to 20 times I read the cover? Why did I misspell it in the first place? Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyy?
I have no answers, no excuses, just an overflowing amount of regret and disappointment. It could have been avoided; it should have been avoided. While we don’t have an official copyeditor, Ace and I, members of the production team and interns edit the magazine each month. But this time, our system had failed. There’s not much we can do now (Though, I think I’ll blame the interns).
Which brings me to the Smart Issue. We came up with the idea for this brainy edition over a long lunch last winter, and I’ve been excited about it ever since. There’s nothing more exciting (again, super nerdy) than exploring cutting-edge education initiatives, especially when most schools are seeing drastic cuts. It’s finding the bright spots in an economic tsunami.
But, I have to admit, it’s difficult to be an arbiter of academia when your readership knows you have imperfect spelling skills.
Grammatical errors in print journalism are kind of like bad math in engineering or bad style in the fashion industry.
In J-school, professors liken misspelled names to malice. In the work place, it’s not an option: Get it right or don’t have a job. Tales of Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair are like horror stories that inspire fear in rookie reporters.
“The printed word can ruin careers and change lives. Don’t screw up,” an editor often told me (That same editor once wrote “Oakie” instead of “Okie” when referring to people from Oklahoma. Huzzah!).
But some mistakes don’t ruin lives or careers. Many are not lawsuit-worthy. They are simply errors that make you look really stupid and feel even…stupider.
Especially when I get a text from my brother saying, “I found a mistake in your story!”
The truth is, you can have 100 people tell you that you are a great writer, a wonderful reporter and a quality journalist. But when you make a mistake—a mistake that tens of thousands of people potentially see—it makes you question your talent, your ability and your smarts. It internally heckles your ego (my huge, huge ego).
So, what do we do about it?
We move on. We suck it up, and we don’t make that mistake again. That’s the lesson of the issue: Smart isn’t always about being right, it’s about learning from being wrong.
For this issue, we decided to spell-check the cover.