So, I was reading an article on the Wall Street Journal website a week ago and I discovered something quite marvellous. The story concerned a fire at the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Diego. San Onofre has been closed down for a while because some pipes are corroding faster than they should, but that’s a different story. This story was about a fire. I’m not a nuclear scientist but I don’t think fires and nuclear power plants are good bed fellows. I’m not terribly happy about nuclear power plants when they’re sleeping quietly on their own.
But before I could become overly concerned, I read the second paragraph and was utterly reassured:
“The fire ignited in an electrical panel in the ‘non-radiological side’ of one of the plant’s two units, said Edison, which operates the plant and co-owns it with Sempra Energy’s (SRE) San Diego utility. The plant’s fire department put out the blaze a few minutes before 1 p.m. local time, less than an hour before it started, the company said.”
Gosh, now that’s the kind of fire department I want in my neighbourhood. The sort that turns up to extinguish a fire an hour before it even starts.
I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I have a theory. The fire department is based on-site and has, over a period of time, been exposed to whatever it is they do at San Onofre. I expect it’s something awfully secretive, like out at Area 51. That’s why the tubes are rotting – some strange alien gas flowing through them.
So, several of the fire-fighters have been intentionally exposed to these fumes, or whatever, to see what happens. Lo and behold, they develop mystical powers of precognition. They are dressed in skin-tight silver suits and placed in a pool filled with a liquid of some kind (like “Minority Report” yes), and left to predict the future.
One of them foresees a small fire breaking out in the nuclear plant at 2 p.m. (He is quickly pulled from the program, BTW, for providing such piddling predictions when they really want to know what missiles North Korea is about to launch. Or not.) He telepathically transmits this information to a colleague who is wearing weird gloves and swiping images and information around a large transparent screen. Glove-Man gets on his cell phone (old habits die hard) and gives this information to his buddies who roll out their truck and arrive at the scene of the impending blaze just less than an hour before it sparks into life. They douse the area with fire-retardant foam, thus ensuring its flammability is, at least for an hour, safely removed.
That’s what I think, anyway.
The other possibility is simply too ridiculous to contemplate: that a professional journalist with Dow Jones Newswires is incapable of spotting a nonsensical piece of bollocks as they are writing it, and then either misses it when checking their work or doesn’t even bother to check their work, and the same goes for their editor.
Nah. That’s stupid. If I’m being gracious, which, as you know, I try never to be, then I suppooooose the writer could have been offering a direct quote from the company, but, even then, surely as a professional journalist you’d go ahead and change it on your own initiative to prevent pedants like me picking it up and writing disparaging blogs about it.
There has been discussion here before about the “crime” of making mistakes, and I can see both sides. In The Grand Scheme of Things, so what? We’re not curing cancer or solving hunger. But in The World of the Freelance Writer, I’d say it probably does matter because we are expected to live by certain rules. Our clients expect it of us. Our readership should expect it of us. (I say “should” because they are all living in The Grand Scheme so don’t really give a crap.)
In The World of the Freelance Writer, mistakes like this really shouldn’t slip through. Apart from anything else, there ought to be sufficient checks between first scribbling and final publication that errors are spotted and removed.
To be fair, I read a lot of Journal articles, and they are almost without exception exemplary. That may be why this jumped out so forcefully.
Still, there is a lesson to be taken from this by all freelance writers. Your work always needs a critical eye casting over it before submission for public consumption. That should be your own eye in the first instance, and then, if possible, an objective party who had no clue what you wanted your piece to say. What I mean by that is this: the problem arises when you become so comfortable with what you want to say that you believe you must have said it. On occasion, it has taken me several reads of an article before I realised it contained an error. My brain must have simply skipped over the mistake, seamlessly replacing it with the certain knowledge of what I thought I had said.
Unless I am horribly pushed for time by a deadline, I always read my work at least three or four times before submitting it. Even with a deadline, I won’t send anything out without a second read, and then I read it again after it’s gone, praying I won’t stumble across some awful cock-up. If I find one, I beat myself up. Only a little, because I know I tried to avoid it, but I still give myself a little Gladstonian flagellation of the brain. It works wonders.
I think freelance writers who make mistakes when they tried their damnedest not to can restrict their mental beating-up to a hard, self-inflicted pinch of the fleshy part of the arm. Those who are a bit come-day, go-day about the whole affair should bring in outside help, using someone they’d hate to let down to mentally slap them around the back of the head. Those who just don’t give a shit should actually get on the phone to Mike Tyson and ask that he cruise by to knock seven shades out of them in a real-world beating. I know he’s meant to be a changed man now, but you could always try taking the piss out of his face tattoo. Something along the lines of “What WERE you thinking?”
Lord, I hope I haven’t made a mistake in all this; I’m going to look like a proper dickhead.