In most jobs where you interact closely with the public, such as journalism, you learn that each comes with its share of inherent risks.
There are times when you are applauded for the job well done, telling a story that needed to be known or catching a breaking news story before everybody else (the scoop).
Then there are times when you are the bad guy, even though you are only doing your job you are targeted as a vulture or scoundrel. You are even at times accused of being a corporate-sponsored puppet trying to silence the voice of the people. I’ve heard that one, too.
I don’t know if I have ever shared with the public or co-workers what one of my deepest fears is in working as a journalist.
Some would think it be dangerous stories, though other co-workers and I have charged into tornado producing weather, trod into grass fire-filled wilderness and even stood inside the perimeter of a police standoff. I’ve even antagonized a county and city clerk or two and lived to tell about it. Now that is living on the edge.
I’ve never been one to shy away from an assignment; in fact I’m not sure the word shy has even been used to describe me. I do, however, take time on assignments when I want to make sure I get things right.
When I started in this field, I, like many others, was tasked with small, tedious items like the menus, the calendar and my favorite of all, honor rolls.
Yes, honor rolls have become the very root of one of my fears as a journalist. It may seem harmless, but trust me, it is anything but harmless.
The fear I am speaking of is the dread of misspelling a child’s name.
I know what you are going to say: “Thomas, that is silly. Kids’ names are already spelled for you on honor rolls.” Well, believe me when I say that just because a child’s name is on the list does not mean that it is right.
There have been times when other co-workers and I have been called by an angry parent wanting to know why their child’s name was misspelled. Mind you it does not matter that the list you got had the name misspelled on it. You are ultimately responsible.
I’ve even had the misfortune of a name being left off the honor roll or overlooked while typing. That made me feel just as bad, if not worse.
People take a lot of pride in their children and by all means they should. It may only seem like a newspaper section, but to many parents it’s scrapbook items or something to show the grandparents.
Now, I can say that sometimes the parents can throw a spelling booby trap out there for us with a special, unique or long name. This is where the honed skills of a journalist are needed. If in doubt pick up the phone and call the school or get a second opinion from a co-worker.
So, as a journalist, even the small things, no matter how mundane, require as much work and time put into them as a front-page, breaking news story to make sure you get them right.
When I’m interviewing someone, I usually ask the person to spell his or her name at least twice, or at least until I get to know him or her and it becomes second nature, like writing my own name.
If I’m interviewing a student, I will often hand my notepad and pen over and say, “Spell your first and last name. If it’s wrong, you and I will both be scolded by your parents.”
It is meant to be light-hearted, but in actuality, I don’t want to get the kid’s name wrong. Everyone deserves to have their story told and when it is written, each person should at least get his or her name spelled right.
Thomas Garcia is a senior writer at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org