Villing & Company

2 Fast, 2 Furious: Coverage of bin Laden Death Highlights Need to Slow Down and Proof

As is typically the case when a major news story breaks, I find myself fixated on the "coverage of the coverage" as much or more than the actual news story itself. Sometimes monitoring such fallout from media missteps is entertaining ("President Obama is, in fact, dead") and sometimes it can even be reflective of a personality trait in our society.

This week's news coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden has proved to be a little of both. But my major takeaway from the numerous reports of news agencies mistakenly switching the "s" in "Osama" for the "b" in "Obama" is that such mistakes are no great surprise in a world racing to frantically fire off texts, tweets and e-mails without so much as a read-through. I know we've all got a lot on our plates and the pressure of keeping up in all forms of communication is strong, but we need to get back to our roots and take a minute to read what we've written – if not have someone else proofread it for us.

A recent example of getting ahead of ourselves a little too quickly can be found in this blog from a PR pro looking for feedback on who was at fault for the misspelling of a VP's name in a publication, after he admittedly was in a hurry getting a reporter information for the story. (It was his fault, by the way.) Again, the setting is familiar, lack of time and short staffed. I get it. But if I had a dime for every time I read, and re-read ... and re-read an e-mail to a reporter with information I knew would end up in print exactly the way I had it ... You get the point. And it's not that I don't make such mistakes. I have, but it's certainly not because I'm not making an effort to closely review what I am saying in my correspondence.

OK, in the case of the bin Laden coverage, I know these media outlets were under the gun to quickly create headlines, but I doubt that 10 years ago there would have been the same amount of mistakes made – simply because I think that we've slowly lost our will to be accurate – comforting ourselves in the notion that "they’ll know what we mean" if we do misspell a word or two in the dozens of seemingly harmless communications we send out on a daily basis. And, for the most part, you'd probably be correct. However, what about that one time out of ten – or even a 100 – when a mistake totally changes the context of your message and/or embarrasses you or your client.

The bottom line is I think many of these mistakes can be avoided if we take an extra second to train ourselves to re-read our correspondence – even in casual, non-business, social interactions because it is our lack of discipline in such situations that ushers in these bad habits that can really hurt us professionally. Now, do you have to re-read three times an e-mail to your mother about your kids' soccer game? No. But I firmly believe paying closer attention to detail in these situations will subconsciously improve your correspondence skills when the stakes are significantly higher.

Until this happens, however, I'll continue to be on the lookout for PR and media faux pas that further drive me into paranoia about my own correspondence with the media and clients alike. That, of course, after I re-read this article a few more times.

Filed Under: general

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