My mistaken point

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A little insight into what keeps a journalist awake at night

It's the middle of the night and I feel more awake and alert than 10 or 12 hours ago. It's happened again.

Once, sometimes twice, a month I'm awakened by worry about a gaffe or potential error in a story that'll appear in the paper when it hits the streets in a few hours.

I worry about getting names wrong and that stories don't make sense.

I worry about being fair to the people interviewed, to our readers and to non-readers who might be affected by a story.

I also worry about facts, headlines, word choices and style.

Foolish as it might seem to some, sometimes — especially if the pending mistake is a biggy — the anxiety makes my heart pound faster and louder. It makes me sweat. It makes my stomach pang.

Some nights I talk myself calm and back to sleep with the simple reminder there's not a thing I can do about it at 4:31 a.m.

Other times, I lie awake, tossing and turning, until it's time to get up with the early-rising son.

That's what happened one night in June when I made a mistake in the photo caption for a story about Newfoundland-born, Olympic wrestler Leah Callahan. I identified her as the wrong wrestler — and it was going on the front page. I woke up at 1:30 realizing what I did and never slept another wink.

Tonight, the worry is about assuming a person named Robin was a girl, when it could very well have been a guy. I don't get back to sleep.

"Robin" is not a major deal in the big picture, but my concern is about making a mistake, about the embarrassment it might cause Robin, and about readers who might know Robin. They'll no doubt roll their eyes. Their faith in the media might even erode a little more.

A journalism mentor once told me such concern for detail and people will serve me well.

That's up for readers to decide, not me. All I know is this concern has stolen a lot of sleep and caused me to drink a lot of coffee.

I'm not trying to paint myself as some über-caring reporter - heck, I'm not running for office and trying to sell myself - I just want to give readers a little insight into one aspect of life as a journalist.

And I'm not asking anyone to excuse mistakes, but I do want people to know flubs aren't taken lightly.

So, Robin, if you're reading and you are not female, I'm sorry.

Steve Bartlett is also kept awake at night by babies. Email him at sbartlett@thetelegram.com or follow his tweets at @SteveBartlett_

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