The Devil’s in the details

Allison Tait blog
Posted on January 12, 2011

When I was a hapless cadet journalist, back in the day, I learned two major things: how to get to the publisher’s office rain, hail and snow after being sent on countless errands by the Editor-In-Chief, and that if I was to succeed in journalism I need to get two things right: names and phone numbers.

I had cause to remember this vital piece of advice this week when I received an email from my Jedi Writer friend (you may remember her from this post, where I was trying on some Obi-Wan robes). “Oh My God,” she wrote. “I’ve been trying to contact you and realised only today that I had your number wrong.”

It transpired that she has been sending me text messages for the last few months, none of which I have received. Instead, they have been going to a poor woman named Rose, who must have been very confused (but not confused enough to text back that the Youngling had the wrong number). Finally, the Youngling tried to call me. And got Rose. Who’d never heard of me.

The Youngling took my number down with great care when I emailed back.

I learned my own lesson about this the hard way. I was working for a well-known women’s mag and had interviewed the two Funny Men of Radio du jour: Tony Martin and Mick Molloy. I had been nervous about the interview because they were smart and humorous and known to run rings around interviewers. All went well. Right up until the point where the article was printed.

The headline: Martin & Malloy. In 54 point type.

I was not responsible for putting the headline on. In fact, the name was spelt correctly throughout the text. But I’d seen that headline before it went to print. All the sub-editors had seen it. The editors had seen it. But because it was in such big, black, bold type, none of us had really looked at it.

Mick Molloy did not miss the fact that his name was incorrectly spelt. In 54 point type. With my byline on it. And used it as fodder for a particularly humorous radio segment at my expense – it seemed to go on for an hour, but was probably three minutes or less. I only know it was humorous because other people were laughing. I was sobbing into my keyboard at that point.

Do I take particular care over the spelling of names? Oh yes I do.

Which is not to say that I didn’t have a recent near-miss. I spelt the name correctly, yes. But failed to check whether the person about whom my interviewee was speaking was male or female. Unisex name, oh yes it was. Female? Oh no he wasn’t.

Fortunately, that particular disaster was averted in a second draft. But it reinforced the importance of the details. And made me take a long hard look at my Obi-Wan robes. Methinks they should go to the back of the wardrobe for a while…


  1. This Mid 30s Life

    Mortifying isn’t it. But really, if someone spells your name incorrectly it’s a bit annoying, but not the end of the world. People should just get over it and remember we all make mistakes.

    Except for me. I’m perfect.

  2. Stacia

    I once overlooked a “best in the county” that should have been a “best in the country.” It was ugly.

  3. River

    The spelling of names is especially tricky these days because of parents wanting their child’s common name to be unique so change the spelling.
    Kyeleigh anyone?

  4. Katy

    Haha I loved that – great post. I am a constant victim of predictor text so I can sympathise on a less famous scale!

  5. The Rhythm Method

    I used to work as a Project Manager, and one of my jobs was to arrange an external group of consultants to run a review of our section. The panel’s secretary was Cutner … I tell you, I have never been so diligent about checking my spelling in emails!!

  6. Cate Bolt

    Look forward, Obi, to all those best sellers who may never be written because you shirked your robes. You are the driving force behind an army of wannabes, including me.

  7. Veggie Mama

    Oh my gosh, I know that feeling. Or when a sub changes a word that now renders your sentence meaningless as they thought they knew better.

    However, I’ve never known the pain of being humiliated by Mr Molloy… Those two were hilarious but could be uncompromisingly brutal… poor you!

  8. Tai Tai

    Have done this SO many times myself and it is an AWFUL feeling. Got me thinking how easily we must miss so may details in life that really are worth looking at. We think we’re looking but are we really? We could be missing the most important bits…

  9. Valerie Khoo

    OMG. I remember the Martin & Molloy incident!

    I also learnt the hard way on my first ever article published where I spelt the interviewee’s name wrong. Mortifying.

    When it’s in print, it’s so permanent. At least when it’s online, you can fix errors so easily these days.

    This also reminds me of a Major Globally Known Newspaper that once had the FRONT PAGE headline:

    “Dazzling Debacle Works” to describe a feel good story about a street parade. Went to print. It appears the subeditor who wrote the headline thought “Debacle” meant the same thing as “Spectacle”.

    Makes our errors seem so minor in comparison!

  10. EmmaK

    Just awarded you a Stylish Blogger Award over at the Cocktails Blog http://tinyurl.com/66r6elg
    We want to hear all about you – stylistically speaking!!

  11. Marion Williams-Bennett

    I am bad at typos of all sorts so I am especially feeling your pain over a typo that you didn’t create!

    I love what Block and Knocks said, as I have said it to myself…will it matter in five years? Only if we let it!

  12. Blocks and Knocks

    It took me 6 reads to find the mistake lol. Some people are so over the top Malloy! I imagine it was a massive stress though. When I make a major blunder (often) I remember my mums wise words “what will it matter in 5 years?” xx

  13. Lucy

    After your huge help today, those robes need to be kept on.

    Thank you. So much.

    (And I can totally relate to the male/female name thing. Jules is short for Julie, in my mind? I stuffed up big time with that one once…)

  14. Tenille @ Help!Mum

    The very very worst, most stressful part of my job at a health fund was the preparation and delivery of the fortnightly email newsletter. I’d dread it. Because it would be moments after I hit “Send” that I’d see the massive typo or incorrect link. Still have nightmares.

  15. Maxabella

    It’s Mick Molloy? Well, I’ll be darned.

    If it’s any consolation, I called my boss Erin for about a week before I saw that it was Aaron. In my defense, he was cockney and softly spoken. But I do remember thinking “what kind of a name is Erin for a boy anyway?” x

  16. Susan @ Reading Upside Down

    Don’t hang up your obi-wan robes. You look so fetching in them. 🙂

    I used to be a medical secretary – another field where there isn’t any room for errors.

  17. Dorothy

    I used to work the Victorian Government and so I was always using the names of Ministers and senior government officials. I don’t think I ever had anything returned from the Minister’s office with a typo in their name, but came close a few times. And recently was laughed at by one of my bosses for using too many SSs in his name. Very, very embarrassing. At least it wasn’t in 54 pt…

  18. anjwritesabout.com

    Nah, keep ’em on…god knows you’re always teaching me something, Master! 😉

  19. Kymmie

    Oh, just found it. Phew. I just about to go and resign…

  20. Kymmie

    Oh. Major stress. And being so high profile, is just even worse because so many people would have seen it (mind you, I couldn’t see the mistake!) Perhaps I’m best not to be working in journalism and should stick to graphic desigh. Ooops. Need details there too. Oh heck. I am in so much trouble! xx

  21. Cate

    Oh I do hate humbling life lessons like that…how much easier life would be if we didn’t have to learn *everything* the hard way!!
    (yeah, yeah, I know, it makes us stronger…but sometimes who wants that much strenghth??)

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