I once had this editor who would write the occasional feature. They weren’t that great, but when they hit the wire — as we journos would call the process whereby a story would be added to the wire service queue, appearing either on customers’ computer screens or on those long-gone ticker printers — they would always seem to have some small, innocuous error in them. At first we thought this was just bad writing, or editing, or something, but then one of us wondered: Were the errors deliberately inserted? When the correction ran, as it would always have to do however minor the error, the whole story would have to appear again on the wire, meaning that it went out to subscribers twice. That effectively doubled the chance of clients picking up the story and using it in their newspaper. Was the journalist being careless, or being smart?
This occurred to me today when I got another email pitch from a PR company beginning “Dear Julian…” As some of you may know, I’m not called Julian and haven’t been for some time. Part of me fumes that someone trying to get my attention can’t even bother to get my name right, but then, I’ve probably done it a few times myself so I can’t get too upset. I fired off an email pointing out the error and also tried to make it not sound like I was too demoralised by the fact that I was still so obscure this person hadn’t heard of me before.
But then I started to think of my old editor, and wonder whether it wasn’t part of some deliberate plan to engage me in a dialog I never would have gotten into had the erroneous name-calling not happened. By writing back I was now in a conversation with them. Which is presumably better than no conversation at all. Indeed the person concerned quickly replied with some suitably self-effacing and apologetic comment and, incidentally, a fresh sideways pitch. And of course now we’re best buddies so I can’t really ever ignore them again. Every pitch they send I’ll have to reply to, especially if they start calling me Jermaine. Could I have just fallen for the smartest pitch ever?