As I approached my eighth hour of stewing over the mistake I made, trying to decide how much longer I was going to beat myself up over it, it dawned on me that all I really needed was a rewind button. That way, I thought, I could go back to when I took my last look at my page. Or I could go further back in the day when I first proofed my story. Or I could go even further back to when I was writing it.
That way, I could've fixed it and, in the process, avoided altogether a really bad day - one that made me wish I was a Louisiana shrimp fisherman with boat payments.
The implications of going back in time are far beyond my realm of thought, I told myself, but I have seen enough movies to know a person can really screw things up when they mess with time travel. Time travelreally? There's is no such thing. How about just slinking into a hole and staying there until someone misses me and sends out the dogs. Yet another scenario that wasn't going to play out.
The only thing I could do, I finally conceded, was work through it.
The mistake I made was writing that House 21A candidate Ramona Larson is a Republican. She is, in fact, not a Republican. I know that. Still, for some reason I wrote that she was the Republican-endorsed candidate when, in reality, Chris Swedzinski is.
Maybe it was my subconscience yearning to get out. See, in my perfect world, Republicans and Democrats would get along so well that they would actually support each other, maybe even to the point of endorsement. Going back in time seems more realistic. A Tom Hatfield-Suzie McCoy wedding reception seems more realistic.
If there's one thing a Democrat doesn't want to be called is a Republican. And vice versa.
There were a number of errors in my first draft of said story. That's why we call them rough. I also spelled Swedzinski without the second "s" four times. Those, I caught. You never saw it. Unfortunately, we don't have a slew of copy editors to fine-tooth comb our stories like larger papers have. Actually, we have fewer people in the news department today than ever before. There were almost as many workers behind the counter at a gas station I stopped at earlier this week than we have reporters. But that's the nature of the business in 2010.
As a journalist, it's difficult, if not impossible, to shrug off mistakes and pretend they didn't happen. The little ones - the misplaced commas, the "have wents" - I can deal with. But when we get a name wrong or, in this case, a party affiliation in an election year, it takes a lot out of us, because once you make a mistake in the paper you can't take it back. You can try to clean it up with a correction but there will always be a stain left behind. And it bothers me. President Obama is on the hunt for an ass to kick. I, on the other hand, didn't need to look very far.
Few outside of the newspaper business can fully relate. It's part of what makes an editor's job one of the most stressful positions around. It's part of the reason I sometimes question why I do it, why I didn't just start my own Subway franchise a long time ago like I said I wanted to do. I'm not perfect, I tell myself, but everyone assumes I should be. Editors and reporters can fly well below the radar most of the time; it's when we make a mistake that people notice us.
Jim Joyce can relate.
He's the fella who made arguably the worst call in the history of baseball when he ruled a baserunner was safe on a play that ruined what was otherwise a perfect day by Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga a couple weeks ago.
Joyce, in true professional manner, owned up to his mistake and apologized for it. But he knew he couldn't take it back. He knew there is no rewind button. The day after his infamous call, Joyce ended up in tears and Galarraga ended up with a shiny new sports car. Anyone who didn't feel bad for Joyce after that just doesn't feel.
It's often said in sports that the less you hear about referees and umpires, the better they're doing their job - it's the same for newspaper editors. Had Joyce made the right call, he would be as anonymous today to the general public as he was a month ago. As it is, that one mistake put him on Page 1 all over the country. Grandmothers know who he is now: The ump that blew the perfect game.
A veteran journalist once told me you're only as good as your last story. I thought I had put together a good one Monday until I learned of my flub. I worked hard on the piece, as well as coming up with the art to accompany it. Now I'm left to ask myself, does that mistake taint all the work I put into it? I'd like to think it doesn't, but I can't let myself do that. That would be too easy. Joyce called a good game up until that final out, but I'm pretty sure he's not bragging about that now.
Plus, if every editor or reporter - or anchor or newsperson, or umpire or referee - gave ourselves a mulligan everytime we screw up, we'd all break par. If we didn't beat ourselves up a little bit after a fumble, we would never learn how to carry the ball. Enough with the sports metaphors.
I have a file of mistakes I've made in the past. It's not in a filing cabinet or a drawer, because it's not on paper. It's in my head. I leave it there, not just to punish myself, but as a reminder that although I am human and I am prone to making mistakes, there's no such thing as being too humble.
And humility can go a long way in this business. With or without a rewind button.