Speed kills: a correction

When you make your living telling stories you purport to be true, you can’t be wrong as often as you’re right.

When you make much of your living telling stories you purport to be true, you can’t be wrong as often as you’re right. You have to be wrong a very little, notice it when it happens and come clean right away.

Yesterday I congratulated a bunch of breweries for winning a prize they didn’t win. The brewery names were actually taken from a list of beers that totally didn’t win the prize. The fact that they didn’t win the prize was printed in bold on top of the list. I missed it and it was stupid and sloppy and really embarrassing. Worse, I publicly reminded breweries I admire that, according to Draft Magazine, they didn’t quite make the cut again this year. That’s the downside. The upside is that it gives me the opportunity to tell a story:

I’ve been saying “speed kills” for awhile now. As a journalist, I said it to and of my colleagues and myself when the rush to get something out overtook the commitment to get something right. As you get older and better (hopefully) you start to recognize that rush of rushing and it makes you stop and double check. I have gotten pretty good at stopping and thinking and very, very rarely get duped into sharing something that is clearly untrue. It gives me a certain sense of superiority, especially as Facebook and Twitter have exploded, and if you know me, you know what I need is a little more confidence.

Pride goeth…

This mistake was particularly embarrassing for several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m a beer writer so it’s part of my job not to screw up the simple things. Tuesdays are my writing day. I get up and work on stories most of the day to publish later on in the week. I also look for stories in the news about local breweries that I can share, or beer stories generally. This week I saw an article called “50 Best IPAs” and decided to scroll down the list to see if any of the local breweries made it. Three names were on the list so I tagged them in a (since deleted) social media post. Fortunately, I didn’t make a huge deal out of it, mostly because I don’t dig “Best Of” lists.

A note on lists: They bore me. Don’t get me wrong, so do many of the things writers have to write about in between finding stories worth telling. I don’t like them because they too often aren’t written for people who read, they’re written for people who scan. I’ve seen some pretty well done listicles, but lists aren’t a tool I use well. This is me blaming lists for my stupidity.

I absolutely hate being wrong almost as much as I hate being stupid. I seethe. Fury is one of the mechanisms I use to tell if I’m wrong. If someone criticizes me and deep down I know they’re right, I get super angry. I’ve learned to recognize this as a warning alarm, because the first thing I want to do is make excuses about how I wasn’t really wrong, it only looks that way.

When a friend of mine gave me the heads up about this beer list mistake, the same thing happened. I thought, “Sure I scrolled down a list of Top 50 beers with 366 names on it, but who makes a list of people who didn’t win?” I started to get really, really mad at Draft Magazine for their formatting and at the rest of the world for being so list-obsessed. This way, I got to focus on how much stupider it is to make a list of non winners rather than about how I can’t tell the difference between a 50 point list and a 400 point list. I get to deflect the fault, disperse it so that the weight of my wrongness is a little easier to bear.

…before the fall

The worst part of my morning so far (it’s 5:18 a.m.) is that this isn’t the first time I’ve made this mistake. About a year ago (probably exactly a year ago) the 50 Best IPAs came out and I went down the list and I was surprised how many local breweries were on it. This is how my thought process went last year:

Three breweries within 20 miles of my home make the best of a million different IPAs list? That’s cool! I should do a story about this. This article’s a week old. I can’t believe no one else has shared it yet. Also there are a lot more than 50 names on this list. What’s going on here?

I scrolled back up to the top where it said, in bold, something like “These are the beers we considered but didn’t select.” And that was it. Bullet dodged.

Being wrong is unpleasant in the way exercise can be. If we’re going to get better, we have to endure it. When I’m super wrong, so wrong that I want to blame the internet for liking listicles, I try to think about a time when I was right, when I made a good decision and put the “blame energy” I’m accumulating into that. Keeping myself from focusing on excuses (I like to think) helps keep my ego in check. I never want to be the guy who won’t admit when he’s wrong. Moreover, it is critical to my sense of self that I’m not that guy.

Speed does kill. When you make much of your living telling stories you purport to be true, you can’t be wrong as often as you’re right. You have to be wrong a very little, notice it when it happens and come clean right away.

Also, this way you get to feel superior to journalists who don’t have these standards. I may be wrong, but I’m not as steadfastly wrong as a lot of people.

That’s an excuse I can live with.

Originally published at ossurynot.com on July 12, 2017.

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