Confessions of a journalist who is terrified to spell your name wrong

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

On a Wednesday evening, walking away from the office after sending another issue of the Reader, my heart pounds.

Despite nearly five years of this weekly rhythm — plan the layout, schedule phone calls, do interviews, transcribe audio, write stories, edit, design, edit again and print — I feel paralyzed with fear. Sometimes this fear lasts the entire way home. Sometimes I can diffuse it with a good playlist or a call to my husband. Sometimes, I wake up at 1 a.m. convinced that I misquoted an elected official, misprinted an event date or (worst of all) spelled someone’s name wrong.

This is hard to admit, but in the world of reporting, this fear is commonplace — even considered “part of the job.” In the years before I abandoned Twitter, I’d discuss coping mechanisms with journalism professionals all over the country. Some of that advice: watch a good TV show, meditate, make plans to go out on the town after deadline or call your mom.

I’ve adopted my own coping mechanisms over the years: yoga, podcasts and beer, to name a few. Oftentimes, the only solace is that my job is not necessarily life or death. Sick, right? I talk myself into accepting any hypothetical mistakes I made by being thankful that I’m not a surgeon, firefighter or cop.

This is partly because of my anxious, perfectionist tendencies. I knew this about myself before I entered the field of journalism. However, I think the looming fear of printed errors exists because people expect perfection.

In all honesty, I think they should — to a point. I wouldn’t accept errors from a contractor building me a home or a hairdresser coloring my hair. However, corrections in those cases are often possible. Once 4,000-plus copies of an error are printed and distributed around town, that’s it. We can all agree that retroactive online story edits aren’t going to fix the damage already done.

I think the difference between expectations of perfection in journalism compared to other professions is how people react to errors. A mistake printed in 10-point ink is, ironically, often made out to be gigantic. What’s more, when a reporter makes a mistake, it is used to discredit everything else they’ve ever written or intend to write.

This is why I read and re-read my work. I review edits and apply more. I triple check dates and names and re-listen to audio to ensure quotes are precise. This is tiring work, but worth it. I take pride in my accurate and clean work. Still, my stomach feels like it’s migrating into my chest whenever we send the final product to the printer.

I share this not for pity, but maybe for some grace. At the Reader, we wield tens of thousands of words each week, and have only three sets of eyes looking over them all. To his credit, Zach does most of this painstaking work. Despite our best efforts, mistakes slip through. For every kind correction we receive from a reader, there are far more rude people, ready to let us know how sloppy and unprofessional we are. Must be nice to be perfect, eh?

My skin gets thicker each week, but those 1 a.m. panics still happen. Just know I’m triple checking your name spelling — in my notes, on the audio and definitely by Google searching you. Thanks for reading.

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