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I Get Letters

March 28, 2013 - Michael McElwain

If there is one thing I've learned during my time as a reporter and in the newspaper business in general, it's that you have to have thick skin.

Not in the literal, crocodilian kind of way, but more in the figurative manner of not allowing things to bother you.

I remember the first time I was threatened with physical harm and the time someone told me they would bash the “heck” out of my truck if took a photo at a crime scene. I also remember the time some defendant in a murder trial actually tried to grab my notebook like it was some sort of power source and that without it, I could no longer write about him allegedly and “accidentally” shooting his girlfriend five times in the span of 20 minutes.

That all comes with the job. It's not the pleasant part, but it is one aspect of being a reporter that requires remaining calm and pushing ahead with the duty at hand.

The important thing to note is that I, at least, understand the positions of the people cited in the examples given. A family member upset about a sad, tragic event will react with anger, and often it's directed toward anyone nearby including reporters or photographers. Some defendant, who was later found guilty of murder, was upset because the truth was being published about his less than savory character and his dealings within a drug culture that ultimately led to him killing his girlfriend (a cashier at a convenience store) to support his habit.

People have a right to be upset and, while I don't necessarily enjoy being threatened or screamed at, they were at least willing to identify themselves. I knew what the problem was, and I tried to be diplomatic and explain my position or, in the case of the ongoing murder trial, watched as some bailiffs pushed the guy against the wall until he released my notebook.

Like most in the industry, I can be reached by fax, e-mail, text message, telephone and even through the U.S. Postal Service.

Which brings me, at long last, to my point.

Several years ago, I got a letter. When there is no return address on a letter, I immediately get suspicious. I opened it up and discovered that some reader, who apparently forgot to identify himself or herself, was kind enough to give me a tip on my writing skills.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I'm no expert with the English language. I have never professed to be an expert anything. I simply try to help others when I can and count on others, especially in a newsroom, to help as often as possible.

I've made more than just a few mistakes just within the last two weeks, but I think I learn a lesson each time. So, I can handle the criticism.

After reading the letter, posted here for you to read as well, I had two reactions: - Why would someone put forth so much effort to write a letter, not own up to it, and criticize me over a silly thing like the usage of “alright” verses “all right?” - The person who wrote the letter was correct.

Oh, I could argue that according to Merriam-Webster ... "The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications."

... and I will not use being under the pressure of deadline as an excuse for the word's appearance. I agree with the person who wrote the letter that “all right” is, indeed, better.

So, I want to thank the person who brought that to my attention. I tried to be more vigilant, but it still slips past me every now and then.

I just wish the person left a way to get in touch. I wanted to write him or her a thank you card and tell them there is no need to remain anonymous, that I appreciate the input and everything is going to be all right.


Article Comments

Jun-09-14 11:40 AM

You missed the perfect chance to introduce "alwrong" into the language.


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I get letters. Lots and lots of letters. Letters.