Don Rogers: A blurb too far
We had a frustrating slip this week for me and more dismaying for some of the targets and friends of those attacked in a Hits & Misses submission that should not have run.
Most basically, The Union’s commentary forums are homes for ideas and actions to be expressed and debated, even robustly. Let’s just say some contributors take the jousting a bit far — into personal attacks and name calling. Those are not OK.
I don’t want to give the unfortunate blurb in Thursday’s edition any more attention than due. It was from a citizen who slipped into some name-calling that we’d remove as soon as we saw it from online comments, the loosest of the forums for these expressions.
How it got through the nets for the commentary page is hard to fathom, if not accounting for human error. I’ve seen lots similarly dumb mistakes in newspapers, sometimes dangerously in a previous career fighting wildfires, and certainly in daily life. We all do a lot of stupid things, given the gift of hindsight to look back and scratch our heads: “How did that happen?”
This time, it didn’t take much: a lot to read through, then reading too quickly and overlooking the obvious, repeated enough times to get through proofing and all the way into print. It shouldn’t happen. Someone should have seen it and edited it out, at every of several steps in the workflow. It’s that obvious. Well, to my eye now, looking back.
Ultimately, though, this is my fault.
The system I approved still has holes. The people I assumed had the clear understanding and focus to catch the offending blurb did not. A workflow designed to overlap so that such a rank expression that got through a first and second reading would be caught in later scrutiny, well, it still needs work.
Sure, there are a few additional strains right now: the election season, more of us working remotely due to the pandemic, a change in editors this month necessitating some reorganization of responsibilities.
These are gifts in a way, though, stress tests showing the weaker points in our system. I think we’re well on the way to buttressing those.
But to the targets of the blurb that got through, I can only apologize. It’s not how I think, and I’m confident our staff doesn’t think in terms of name-calling or trashing people over their positions, politics or worldviews we might disagree with.
I understand people slip with their remarks in their own frustrations with life, politics, issues and all that, especially during fraught election seasons.
I’m sure the author of the blurb would take it back with some hindsight. But it’s our job to catch those things before he needs to — to keep the discussion focused on ideas rather than degenerating into insults. Those serve no one.
We all have to do better.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent, and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.
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