Every job has assorted pitfalls and hazards that few people outside the field know about, much less understand.
Consider these hazards to be gremlins. Anyone of them can grow into full-sized demons under the right conditions.
For a reporter, the growing-up process is complete when a reader calls or drops by the office to pay his respects, point out a mistake, and suggest that the writer has the IQ of a field mouse.
Fortunately, most readers aren't that savage in expressing their opinions. Ninety-nine out of every 100 people accept the mistakes philosophically. They understand that perfection in newspapers or anything else is a worthy goal, but one that's impossible to achieve and expensive to pursue.
No one hates mistakes, whether factual or typographical, more than newspaper people. When you work for a newspaper, you share your best efforts, as well as your biggest blunders, with thousands of readers. All the work you do, from the best of it to the rest of it, stays in print.
The old saying is that doctors bury their mistakes, lawyers send their mistakes off to prison, and architects cover their mistakes with ivy. But a reporter's mistakes hang around, visible for years, like restless ghosts which won't go away.
A reporter's body of work remains in print. It someday demonstrates to those unborn when the words were written what a witty fellow the reporter was. The same work may prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reporter was dumber than three sheep.
The reporter's words stay in print long after the writer is fertilizer for a cash crop of daisies growing atop his grave, and long after passers-by point to his grave, snicker, and say: " He finally got into a hole he couldn't get out of."
A humorous look at a few gremlins I hope never grow up while I'm around:
--Public meetings can sometimes be boring to the point of tears. That's one reason why so many citizens don't attend them, even though the public officials holding the meeting are spending the citizens' money.
Sometimes I think people at the meeting are being boring on purpose.
Mayor: (watching yawning reporter leave): I knew that stuff about the revenue bond paperwork would run him off. Now we can get down to business.
"I suggest we all raise our salaries to $25,000 annually, buy personal limousines with money from the street fund, sell the town to Saudi Arabia and split the profits.
"Billy Sam, you propose it. Bob Joe, you second it. All in favor, say aye. Opposed? None. So moved.
"Now, somebody go fetch those Memphis table-dancer gals we sneaked into the back of City Hall. Tell 'em it's showtime.
(Later). "I see that reporter coming back in, so we better get back to revenue bonds, folks. And somebody get those gals out of sight.
"Ahem, as I was saying, the crossover frammis brings a predominant negative impact when conceptualized in conjunction with the snerdlovett of the unbalanced dimethyl hydrazine..."
Another thing a reporter fears is having something big happen at a meeting right after he has given up hope of having anything worth writing about and left.
Man on street to reporter: "I thought you said nothing big happened at the Board of Aldermen meeting last night."
Reporter: "That's right. Those guys didn't do anything. They were on the payroll, but they sure weren't on the work force."
Man on the street: "Well, down to the Gag-A-Lot Cafe, they're telling that 50 heavily armed men broke in on the meeting just before it adjourned. They held the board hostage all night, hid an atomic bomb under a chicken coop somewhere in town, and made the mayor write a $10 million check on the revenue sharing funds for the ransom. Worse than all that, they took all the dancin' girls with 'em when they escaped..."
All reporters are concerned about making even small spelling errors in their stories.
Caller: "My name is Billy Smythe, and you have an article in today's paper that says I was arrested for being drunk and disorderly in church, and running over an old lady in the aisle with my motorcycle. I don't know where you got your information -- I wasn't even in church Sunday.
Reporter: "I have the police report right here, sir. It says clearly that Bill Smith...
Still another thing most small town newspaper folks fear is being caught without a camera, or worse, without his or her cellphone, which nowadays makes better pictures than most cameras.
Man in field rushing breathlessly up to reporter: "Come quick and bring your camera. There's two dinosaurs fighting in the middle of my bean field, and down in the south pasture there was a terrible collision between a 747 and a PT boat. And a bunch of dancin' girls disarmed 50 heavily armed men, tied 'em up, and recovered an atomic bomb from under a chicken coop. Those gals said that $10 million check they found wasn't enough to pay them for rooting around under that chicken coop. It's the most they've ever been paid for dancin' between the meadow muffins in a pasture, though."
Reporter: "Gee whiz. I didn't think there'd be anything worth taking pictures of way out here. I left my camera at the office, and the reception out here is so bad i left my cellphone at the office too...