We aren’t satisfied, either

Uneasy Chair

Dean Miller
Posted 5/8/19

“Deadline” is the right term for that snapshot moment when we commit our work to paper. In ink.

It’s the right term because we’re dead to the reader if we’ve missed …

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We aren’t satisfied, either

Uneasy Chair


“Deadline” is the right term for that snapshot moment when we commit our work to paper. In ink.

It’s the right term because we’re dead to the reader if we’ve missed the story or made a mistake. “Deadline” is apt because when our printer’s DGM 440 starts beating 40,000 impressions per hour onto newsprint, all hopes for improvement, let alone perfection, are dead.

There is no “delete” button on  a newspaper, no “edit post” function, and there is no privacy setting behind which we can hide. You can still see an original copy of America’s first paper, Publick Occurrences, published in “Bofton”, 1690. Archaeologists pore over readable Chinese paper fragments from 150 AD. Our shortcomings live for millennia.

Which is why reader disappointment with The Leader is the great honor of this job. Your expectations remind us to never be satisfied.

Frustration and even fury come at The Editor (me) in person, through letters and phone calls and in all-caps emails. The Mullens may pay the taxes, sign the paychecks and live in the apartment upstairs, but it is clear that readers of The Leader consider this the community’s paper.

Exasperation seeps into many of our daily conversations. Even friends and family can’t help but shrug or shake their heads at the latest typo or clumsy mangling of the King’s English.

Displeasure gusts out of sports fans who have waited and waited for us to celebrate something other than robotics teams and debate champions.

Our imperfections are weekly fodder for several coffee klatches of Bay Area, New York City and Washington, D.C. expats, who take pains to inform me The Leader is beneath their contempt. After all, their news fix was ever the strong stuff peddled by the Chronicle, the Times, the Post.

If readers feel let down by The Leader, imagine the day-after regrets of this news staff of 4.5 souls.

We, too, have travelled the world and admired great journalism. Though we are at times benighted, we usually know better, even when we don’t manage to do better. We create every miscue, clumsy phrase and outright mistake.

Hence my hairline. I have spent a lifetime producing work that fails to live up to readers’ standards or my own and having that effort glare back at me from a printed page that will never blink. It may be catbox liner, but it’s durable stuff, whether in memory or National Archive.

Which is why every barb hits its mark. We may try to console ourselves with spiffy awards or rare moments of public acclaim, but even our best work sometimes makes us cringe when we look at it again. There are people we let down and voiceless people we failed to give a voice. There’s always an errant comma or a missing “l” that makes a nice word mildly racy.

And yet there are no slaves here.

Hard-working, personable people who could prosper in many other fields choose to work odd hours for short pay in the newsroom. They sign on knowing full well that second-guessing and sneers are a feature, not a bug, of the job. Speculation about our lineage and nose-wrinkling at the deficiency of our scholarship come with the business card.

My colleagues choose this work because it matters. Your immediate and passionate feedback keeps us honest when we get up, dust ourselves off, and try again to tell well the stories of this place. Every time you say you want better,  more, or different, we see the world through another set of eyes. We are reminded by you that journalism can and should be the oxygen of healthy self-rule by a fractious, fractured people.

We can do better and we will.

Dean Miller is Editor of The Leader.


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Tom Camfield

One can make many observations on this topic. One of mine would be that among the nit-picking grammar police are those who really are dissatisfied with such things as opinions expressed in editorials, columns, letters, blogs—or perhaps with some manner of news coverage that they feel doesn't adequately honors themselves or their children. And the best they can muster without appearing self-centered or arrogant is to pounce on a minor grammatical faux pas like a chicken on a junebug.

I've been associated with newspapers one way or another for 75 years. Most of it has been with the Leader, although I published my own paper for a time in California. I've written on the side for Associated Press. the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer and been a magazine contributor. I've written 8 books. And I doubt there are many around more obsessed with grammar and lexicography than I. I used to contribute to and correspond with the late James J. Kilpatrick, syndicated columnist on the matter of language use and author of the book "The Writer's Art." If I taught writing of any sort, that book would be required reading, although it's now out of print. But I guess that's all a bit beside the point—although it should suggest I hadn't learned everything by the age of 25 or so.

Through it all, life goes on and the heavily-altruistic spirit of journalism is not diminished in the least by such minor hiccups. That spirit is, however, nurtured in part by the free speech involved in forums such as this one.

The gist of what I'm getting around to is that typos and absent-minded misstatements definitely come with the territory. Many years ago the publisher for whom I was working at the Leader himself wrote a front-pace headline referring to Japanese-Americans (including local dairy farmer) who were "interred" by FDR during World War II. And in case that slipped past you here, the intended word was "interned.'

It was close ro 60 years ago that Earl Sturrock, long-time local distributor of the Seattle P-I, showed me a clipping he'd saved from that paper. It referred to the "Boom Men & Farters Union." The intended word there was "Carters." I don't recall just where the C and F were on the old linotype machine of those years, but they're certainly neighbors on a typewriter keyboard. I still find mistakes periodically ihe Seattle Times, an example being by a sports worker on such a tight deadline that he' writes much of his story while the game is under way.

I also recall a photo caption in the Times, in which the writer described someone as "jestering" rather than "gesturing."

I occasionally find a typo in one of my two local history books, which totaled some 1,100 pages that I typed out myself, without spell-check, for reproduction in thousands of copies. They are minuscule in the scheme of things. And why are we even talking about this sort of thing when our entire society is under the thumb of Donald Trump, who lies purposely all day long, every day, on factual matters—and also uses poor grammar in his tweets?

Meanwhile, I continue to grumble over the reference of relative newcomers to "Sheridan Street." It was always "Sheridan Avenue" during my lifetime here—along with San Juan Avenue and Hastings Avenue. Check the street signs one of these days; some of them still refer to Sheridan Avenue. In any case, it doesn't affect the ability to drive from 19th Street to the state highway. I guess that's sort of a metaphor for all this flapdoodle over some bedraggled insignificant little red herring where discussing the subject of journalism is concerned.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019