Writer’s Block: Hard Learned Lessons

By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

I’ve always been the type of person who speaks my mind exactly as those thoughts occur. Friends have joked before that they seek my opinions on certain topics because they know I’ll offer such without sugarcoating them. “What would Dina say?” they muse.

Some people would say that translates to me lacking a filter, but from my perspective, my bluntness stems from elsewhere. I was raised to place a high premium on the truth, even if that truth is an uncomfortable one. For me, valuing truth means more than just speaking honestly, it also means taking pride in doing my job as well as I can, and it means owning up to my mistakes.

I’ve had the privilege of serving as editor of the PRESS for seven months now. As the editorial head of this publication, though, the mistakes I make have the potential to affect more than just me, they can affect the integrity of the paper. I own that, so I’m writing this to tell the story of a lesson hard learned.

It happened on a Friday, the day after the paper goes to press, when my phone rang. The woman on the other end of the line first asked for confirmation of my identity and my status as editor before delving into the reason for her call.

I was having a bad day at the end of a bad week. Who hasn’t? So, once  I confirmed my identity to the caller, she revealed she was calling to express her displeasure with a decision I made in the paper’s layout. She felt I didn’t treat a story which had personal significance for her with enough respect.

The article was a front page story, but I had chosen to place it at the bottom of the page, ‘below the fold,’ so to speak. For the caller, this was insulting. I tried to explain my decision-making process to her several times, but my answers were unsatisfactory. The conversation devolved to the point where the caller questioned my integrity  by claiming that, because it wasn’t my story, I didn’t position it above the fold.

And that’s when I made my first mistake.

I lost my temper. I didn’t quite raise my voice, but the tone I used was forceful. After a few more tense words, the call ended. I was so affected by the call that I immediately told the general manager what I had done; I felt my supervisor needed to know.

It wasn’t until this week, though, that I learned the caller had recorded the entire conversation. Not only that, but she has since been playing the recording for multiple third parties.

Losing my temper was a mistake, but I have to wonder about the motivations of a person who placed a call prepared to record from the outset. I further have to question their motivations when they attempt to use that recording as a sort of ‘gotcha’ moment to assail the integrity of my publication by besmirching my character.

Granted, my mistake was in losing my patience and in taking someone’s bait.  However, the caller’s mistake was making a call with malice aforethought.

At the end of the day, though, this situation has taught me a valuable lesson in this job. Losing my patience is not a luxury I can afford. For one thing, remaining patient at all times should be a given, not an exception; it’s courteous. But secondly, you never know when a person with an agenda may try to test that patience.

As I told the caller during our conversation, I care more about this paper than I do myself. So, though it’s unfortunate I had to learn this lesson the hard way, it won’t be one soon forgotten.

Editor’s note: This column was written because transparency is important in journalism. Similar to the manner in which the press serves to keep public officials accountable to their constituents, we, as media, must also be held accountable to a higher standard.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.portisabelsouthpadre.com/2015/07/25/writers-block-hard-learned-lessons/

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