Filak-ism: A random observation, borrowed idea from a movie/song/TV show/book, odd concept or weird phrase that has been warped in the mind of Dr. Vince Filak for broader application within journalism situations.
It’s hard to get over a mistake you made when you literally have to drive over it several times a year.
As a cub reporter, I caught a great story about a 10-year-old kid who jumped into a river to save his little brother’s life. I managed to get the police report, the hospital info on the little brother and interviews with the family, all while on deadline. When TV didn’t have the story that night (in the era before people broke news online), I had an honest-to-God exclusive. I couldn’t wait for that story to run.
When it did, I wished it never had.
Turns out, I called the Crawfish River the “Crawford River,” which makes no sense as we don’t have one of those around here. I also managed to mix up Fall River, Wisconsin with River Falls, Wisconsin. Two errors in the lead. Good grief.
It turns out that to drive from Madison, where I was living at the time, to my folks’ house in Milwaukee, I actually had to cross the Crawfish River. Even now, years later, I’ll be driving in some part of the state and end up on a bridge over that damned thing. It never goes away.
What also doesn’t go away, however, was that constant reminder to ALWAYS double check proper nouns, including people, places and events. Spelling, geography, whatever. Just make sure you’re sure, I would tell myself after my fifth overly paranoid examination of whatever I was writing.
When I became a professor, I wove that philosophy of pain and remembrance into my grading as well. Fact errors cost people half their reporting grade. Some students thought it was too harsh. Colleagues occasionally told me it was too lenient, in that they gave out zeros when someone made an error like the “Crawford River.” I explained it to both groups with a simple philosophy:
I want mistakes like these to hurt so badly that you never make them again, but not so bad that they kill you so you can’t ever recover and thus miss the point. In short, if the penalty is too harsh, it fails to do its job. If the penalty is too soft, it fails to do its job.
I won’t disagree with other systems, but it appeared to me over time that mine worked out pretty well. Last year, I was in contact with a former student who had just gotten her master’s degree in library science. She just got engaged so congratulations on both fronts were in order. After a brief exchange, she said this:
“Poy Sippi is spelled P-O-Y S-I-P-P-I, not P-O-Y S-I-P-P-Y.”
I paused, wondering if she was OK.
“That’s the reason I got an A- in your features class. I misspelled that damned thing. Now I always look stuff like that up.”
Score one more for the Crawfish River…