Thursday, September 29, 2011

fun with a newspaper column: In which I apologize profusely

Here's this week's column from the St. Clair Times, which is largely about apologizing. While we're here, my apologies for not posting the column from last week or the week before. My bad. As always, feel free to complain about this column by commenting here or finding me on Twitter.
Writing means lots of apologies

Much of my career as a writer has been one long apology.

(Here’s where you say, “What career?” And that’s … that’s just mean. You should apologize.)

Most people with an ounce of writing talent (and me!) enjoy the idea of writing for a living, particularly as a columnist, where whatever’s bouncing around in their heads at any given moment might eventually translate into 2,500 words of worthwhile copy for other people to read.

In fact, when I first started as a columnist, it was with a now-defunct website called Dateline Alabama, and that’s exactly what I did — wrote about whatever was bouncing around in my head at any given moment. The results were … um, bizarre.

And here’s the thing: When you write about whatever’s on your mind, certain people may find it somewhat offensive. It’s one thing to get emails from people you don’t know or care about because they didn’t like the fact that you called the starting quarterback for Alabama an entitled doofus; it’s quite another thing when you receive emails from your own dad.

“Also … please stop telling people to [expletive] in your column … your mother reads this, you know.”


Things have progressed, the further I’ve gone as a columnist. Writing a local sports column as I did for two different papers was essentially begging for people to call and email with various critiques.

“You spelled my daughter’s name wrong — it’s Krystian, not Kristen.”

“How come you always pick against us?”

“What do you mean when you say the rain affected the game? I live two miles from the stadium and it barely rained a drop.”

Writing about news, of course, is not much different — though fewer people are as passionate about, say, bond issues, as they are about high school football. That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t occasionally hear from someone in a public relations department somewhere with a “clarification” on something, which usually involves correcting plain English and converting it into Corporate Groupspeak.

“You wrote that someone used a Taser. That’s not a Taser; it’s a generic stun gun.”

“That politician you photographed wasn’t drinking our product. He was drinking something else out of a cup with our product’s name on it.”

“Please don’t refer to our ‘associates’ as ‘employees.’”

“That joke you made about me in your last column wasn’t funny at all, and if you do it again I’m going to break both of your thumbs with a sledgehammer.”

Wait — that last one wasn’t from a PR gerbil. That one was my wife. Which means I have to go apologize again. Great.

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