When I was 23 and just starting out in journalism, I made an awful mistake. While covering a high-profile trial in San Jose, California, I wrote that a woman who hadn’t been charged with any crime had plotted a murder.
The woman I’d wrongly incriminated sued me and my newspaper for libel, demanding $11 million. Had she won, it would have killed my career and financially damaged my employer.
In the preceding weeks I’d made a series of smaller mistakes, mostly getting names and dates wrong, although once I’d quoted a rancher as telling me he had to leave to “shoot a horse” when he’d really said “shoe” a horse. He called the news desk the morning that story appeared to demand a correction, saying his sister worked for the Humane Society and had given him hell.
As these errors piled up, I feared my days at the newspaper were numbered. But I still couldn’t seem to slow down and take the time to check my work. Instead, whenever possible, I blamed the flubs on others. The rancher had mumbled. The copy editor hadn’t done his job. My editors…