Allegations of rap, a sheriff-groping student and other awkward mistakes to avoid

We have a couple examples today of what happens when journalists don’t think before they act or they fail to spend an adequate amount of time to check their work before publishing.

SPELLCHECK WON’T SAVE YOU: One of the main reasons you have so many headline issues or stories about “pubic speakers” or “pubic events” is because journalists misspell “public” and don’t notice it because spellcheck didn’t say something was wrong. Just because a word is spelled correctly doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right word, as Newsweek found out in its recent coverage of sexual assault allegations:


If you read the second sentence carefully, you will notice journalist says “Simmons allegedly rapped”  the woman, as opposed to “raped” her. (Def Jam is a label predominantly known for hip-hop artists, thus making the “rapped” reference additionally awkward.)

Regardless of if you are writing about a major figure accused of committing a heinous crime or if you are covering a bake sale hosted by local youth, edit carefully. It can save you from something truly embarrassing.

HYPHENS HELP: We’ve discussed the idea of reading everything from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy as a way to keep yourself out of trouble when writing things that could lead to awkward double entendres. This not only helps with word choices, but also in the use of punctuation. Perhaps the most famous one indicates how commas save lives:


In this case, the lack of a hyphen creates a problem for anyone wondering who was doing what to whom:


The YouTube video referenced here talks about a “Student Groping Sheriff,” which is a bit too vague for the casual reader. It could be a student groping a sheriff or, in an extremely odd reading, a student sheriff whose job it is to engage in groping. What you needed was the hyphen so it was a “Student-Groping Sheriff,” as in a sheriff who groped students.  Hyphens help to clarify what could be an awkward construction. This is why I tend to over-hyphenate, even on things like a “public-relations practitioner.” I don’t want someone to be seen as a “relations practitioner” who operates in public. Not sure what that would look like and I don’t want to know.

WORD CHOICE MATTERS: It’s not only about what the word says or means in some cases, but rather what the word connotes. Consider this word choice in a item about several hunting fatalities:


The phrase “a couple” does mean two, so the headline isn’t inaccurate, but the feeling of “a couple” is a bit too casual of a tone for a story in which people died. I have a hard time believing the recent Las Vegas mass shooting would have a headline like “Some guy shot bunches and bunches of people at concert.” Then again, this headline ran after the Texas shooting:

When it comes to crafting your content, think about how your readers will read what you are putting out there. Every word you choose or error you make has the potential to affect how your readers consume your work and what they will think of you.

In short, be careful out there.

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