We’ve all seen it before—TV news anchors who curse on air. Just a few days ago, a news anchor at a Virginia CBS affiliate, reporting on the summer vacation employment prospects for local high schoolers, meant to say “More teens are having luck finding summer jobs.” However, in an unfortunate slip of the tongue, she transposed two consonants and ending up saying one of those words that little old ladies, ministers and the FCC frown upon.
She recovered well and continued with the newscast, and it’s unlikely any punishment will be forthcoming for her stumble. Still, it was one of those mistakes she can’t take back, and—you guessed it—it’s now all over YouTube.
Fortunately, writers aren’t put on the spot like live TV reporters are. They have time to reflect on what they’ve written, to move paragraphs around, to spell check, to select just the right word, and to employ the services of a good editor. Still, mistakes happen, and they’re easier than ever to make in the 21st-century media sphere, in which a few seconds can mean a competitor breaks the story on his website and not yours.
So what is a writer to do? Here are a few tips to avoid embarrassment and maybe even a pink slip:
1. Take a deep breath and relax. Despite the need for speed, accuracy is still the number one goal. Being in a rush leads to mistakes. As the old saying goes, “There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.”
2. Run a tease. If you can’t get your full piece online quickly and accurately, then run a tease: “Man bites dog. Details to follow.” Media consumers are likely to come back to your site or look for your tweet if they know you’re on the case. Add details slowly as they come in. CNN is good at this—they’ll post the time an online story was updated and what was added.
3. Get a second read. Have someone else read the piece before it goes up on the website. And read it to yourself—backwards—so you take note of the words you typed, not the ones you meant to type.
4. Fix your mistakes after the fact. You didn’t mean to type it. It passed spell check, and your co-worker’s brain saw the word you meant to put to the page, but you definitely weren’t extolling the virtues of “pubic” education. Unlike video, text fixes are easy and typos don’t usually go viral. Give your copy a final read once it’s online just to be safe.