Monday, April 22, 2013

Write And Wrong

TigerBlog has a bookcase behind his desk that has all kinds of stuff in it.

There's a folded up flag with a big orange "P" on it. There's a DVD copy of the 1999 Princeton-Syracuse men's lacrosse game. There's a Passover seder plate.

And there are old publications. Lots of them.

There are binders of old football game programs, nicely saved year-by-year in black hardcover, with a similar one of men's lacrosse guides. There are some that are unbound as well, and those seem to be have been randomly thrown in there a long time ago.

TB doesn't like to touch the bookshelf, because there is an equal amount of dust - and possibly some spiders - that also hasn't moved in years.

TB doesn't have to look to know that the 1994 football guide is in there somewhere. It's the first publication TB ever did when he started working here, way back when.

And, if that was the first book he did, then the first page of the first book he did was supposed to have a picture of senior captain Carl Teter, an offensive lineman. Only TB put in a picture of someone else and then labeled it as Teter.

Then he printed 2,500 copies of it.

Then he noticed the mistake.

And that wasn't even the biggest mistake he made in misidentifying someone in a picture. Nope, that was in the game program for the last game at Palmer Stadium.

The cover was very creative. It had the horseshoe shape of Palmer Stadium with a collage of pictures of prominent people and events in the stadium's 83-year history.

And in the middle was a big picture of Dick Kazmaier. It was a great picture, of Kazmaier, in his No. 42 jersey, about to let a pass go.

Except it wasn't Kazmaier. It was someone from before when Kazmaier played.

Of course, it was of No. 42 as he threw a pass. And it was labeled "Dick Kazmaier" on the back of the picture. Only it wasn't him.

How does TB know this? Kazmaier told him. Very politely. Very nicely. Very unassumedly, as is Kazmaier's way, almost as if he felt like it was his mistake for not being the person in the picture, not TB's for not using a picture of the wrong person.

It's part of how it works when you're in communications. You look at a proof version of something a million times and then as soon as you get it back, you see the mistake you never saw before.

Or you put out something publicly that is wrong, and you hear about it rather immediately.

It's inevitable. Everyone who works in the field has done it. Unintentionally. With no goal of misleading anyone. It just happens.

TB did it last week, with his first Ivy League men's lacrosse tournament scenarios. TB had one of the very, very, very obscure tiebreaking rules incorrect, and so he concluded that Yale had not clinched a spot in the field when it fact the Bulldogs had.

Word got back to him, and he corrected the mistake.

After this weekend's games, TB updated the scenarios, which granted became much easier, what with only two games remaining that can impact the final outcome (Princeton vs. Cornell, Harvard vs. Yale) and with one game this weekend (Dartmouth vs. Brown) that cannot.

Still, with just four possible outcomes, TB stared long and hard at the screen before hitting the "send" button.

There's a huge difference between the issues of making such mistakes in 1994 and 2013.

Back then, you printed something and then couldn't unprint it. Like the guide with non-Teter on Page 1, it was going to be there forever. Granted, it's on some dust-covered bookshelf under a seder plate, but it's still there - and it's not going anyway.

In 2013, TB was able to fix the mistake. But the audience is so much larger, and the ability for people to immediately point out the mistake is so much greater.

And more importantly, the expectation for information has grown, and it has to be immediate.

The last week has been a reminder of that. How many "facts" came out about the Boston Marathon bombers, about who they were, about what their motives were, about how the investigation was progressing, what the status was - and how much of that was proven to be wrong?

See, it's rule No. 1 for TB - people believe everything they read.

Ever see "All the President's Men?" If the movie is to be believed, then Woodward/Bernstein never printed anything without confirmation from three sources.

Today? No way. It's throw it out there and be first. Being first is No. 1. Being right is a distant second.

On a much smaller scale, college athletic communications offices everywhere are using things like Twitter to get scores and information out to as quickly as possible. Every now and then, something is going to be wrong.

Like this past weekend, when @putigers tweeted that Brown had beaten Penn in women's lacrosse, giving Princeton a share of the Ivy title. Only Penn had beaten Brown, in overtime, to win the outright title.

Once the mistake was realized, it was deleted in less than a minute and a correction put in its place.

But in 2013, that tweet was already retweeted by the time it was deleted. And of course that started the inevitable spread of the incorrect information that Princeton had tied for the league title.

And once the barn door is open, well, you know the rest.

All TB can do is apologize for the error. It certainly wasn't done to take anything away from Penn's achievement or anything nefarious.

Nope. It was just a mistake. And TB apologizes.

Just like he will after the next one.

And the other after that.

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