I had a bad feeling about the kudzu.
In last week’s issue I wrote a short photo journal about an old car I stumbled across in the woods in Durham. I’d intended to write about the car itself, but then I read that kudzu, which I took the leafy vines on the car to be, can grow a foot a day. The factoid got the writer part of me all jazzed up about this riff on kudzu and time, so I shouted down the editor part and wrote that, instead.
The problem, as several plant-savvy readers pointed out, was that it wasn’t kudzu at all. It was English ivy. My piece, like my botany, was wrong at the root.
The worst part is, I saw it coming. It was somewhere during the 12-hour sprint to get to the printer that it first crossed my mind like a shadow: Are you sure that’s kudzu?
Shut up, it’s almost certainly kudzu, I said, even though every journalist knows the simplest fact will magically turn wrong if we don’t check it because God hates us.
But as interim editor in chief and arts and culture editor, I had more important facts in more important stories to wrestle down on deadline, the real voracious time-eater here. The foreboding came again, stronger, as I signed off final pages, but by then it was far too late.
Even in such an inconsequential story, I regret wasting your time and confidence through carelessness, and I took three sharp reminders from my error:
One, always listen to that little voice. It knows things you don’t.
Two, don’t write about something if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Even if it’s just a little riff.
And three, the necessity of filling a page, though very real, should never win out over the necessity of accuracy.
SNL producer Lorne Michaels is supposed to have said that the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30. The same could be said of the INDY’s press deadline. But a correct house ad beats an incorrect story, and I’m grateful that this serious flub came in an unserious piece to remind me for the hundredth time that “looks like” is never enough. Next time I get inspired, I’ll remember to open a book before I open my mouth.
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