Be on the alert
A little while back, The Washington Post experienced some embarrassment when a draft of an article, including an editor’s queries, was accidentally posted on its website. I wasn’t inclined to remark on it because it might have looked like gloating, and besides, it was a purely mechanical mistake rather than a lapse in editorial judgment.
But one of my readers has sent a link to a commentary on the blunder, wondering what I have to say. It’s this: Since any text you ever create in a computer could potentially escape and be seen by a wider audience, be careful.
That goes particularly for e-mail. Don’t write it when you’re angry or drunk, and take particular care about the address. Have you ever absent-mindedly addressed a snarky message to the subject of that message? (Me, too. The person I sent it to has ignored a friend request on Facebook, more than twenty-five years later.) Or to a group instead of an individual recipient?
When you’re editing a text, you want to be direct but tactful, sometimes even deferential, about your comments and questions. And you want to make sure that you address essential points, economically, instead of marking up everything in sight and coming off like an obsessive noodge. You don’t know whom the writer might show it to.
And this: Master the damn technology. Microsoft Word, if that’s what your shop uses. Ours uses CCI and NewsGate, which were invented by Danes after they gave up pillaging seacoast towns and turned to writing software. The programs are difficult to learn and maddening to operate, but they give the inept user a power to do considerable damage. The typewriter is over. Stop hitting two spaces after a period and learn how to manipulate the machinery you’re using.
One other point, on a different subject, about being careful out there:
Derby Day approaches, and there is a danger that some of you, misled by the premature appearance of seersucker or of ladies wearing broad-brimmed hats, may think that the mint julep is some kind of genteel ladies’ drink.
I have given you the recipe for a proper mint julep. Use your power for good, not for evil. You and your party should sip it, not gulp it, and, as my colleague Rob Kasper advises, one to a customer should be plenty. Once a second round hits the medulla oblongata, you had better check your liability insurance.