When I first heard about this “fatal flaw,” I thought the rule was unusually harsh.

The dictate of USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism way back in the mid-1970s was simply this: If you misspelled a name on any document or any length of any level of importance, the result was swift-and-final: a “Falcon” on the paper.


As a result, one double-checked…sorry, one triple-checked every name on every page of every document and then asked a fellow student to do the same. Nothing, and I mean, absolutely nothing was left to chance. That was then. That may not be the case now…but it should be.

Two years later, the wisdom of this rule was validated by the look of horror on the face of the society editor of one of my first employer’s, the Glendale News Press in Southern California. She was having her ear burned off by the furious, foaming-at-the-mouth, mother-of-the-bride. Her precious, crying daughter’s name was misspelled in the cut line of the family wedding photo that ran in the home town paper. Hell knows no fury like a pissed off mother-of-the-bride. Guess receiving an “F” on an academic paper, even the final, is not so bad in comparison.


Fast forward to the present day and as Almost DailyBrett readers know, I am a Graduate Teacher Fellow at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. As such I am working with students and in some cases, mentoring, helping them in their pursuit of their degree and hopefully a career-path job right after that.

Wonder who is going to hire the student that spelled the name of the leader of the free world in a headline: “Barrack Obama?” He wondered why he was receiving a “C” on his paper. I then showed him the headline. Please don’t suggest that I am getting soft in my mature age.

We certainly live in a digital world. And that means that communicators regardless of the discipline – advertising, public relations, broadcast, social media, print – need to be proficient in technology skills. These marketable skills include Apple’s Final Cut Pro for audio and video editing; Adobe Bridge and Photo Shop for photographic work; Microsoft PowerPoint and Prezi for presentations; Excel for spread sheets and many more now and in the future.

Having said that, there is still a need for old-fashioned analog skills including basic writing and editing. Spelling, grammar and following the good ole Associated Stylebook all still matter. They all speak to professionalism.

Are Journalism schools literally throwing out the baby with the bathwater by overly concentrating on the digital and giving short shrift to analog skills? Whatever happened to Newswriting 101? There is still a need for this course; in fact there is a compelling need. I see it every day editing papers, pointing out the same errors over-and-over again to a multitude of students.

The blank stares from far-too-many students when they are asked to recite the cherished five W’s and one H of Journalism tells the story. They need to use the “Inverted Pyramid” to tell the reader in a paragraph or two, the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the story. This skill is going to survive any change to Moore’s Law. This is the basic hard news lead that serves news hounds around the world and always will.

Journalism may be changing, particularly with the advent of Web 2.0 and conversational marketing. The insatiable demand for news is growing as literally millions in developing nations are moving into the middle class. They want news and information like all the rest. There is no doubt that bites, bytes, bells and whistles will play an increasingly prominent role in delivering the news reports of the future. They still need to be professionally written whether they appear on stone tablets or digitally in cyberspace.

And that means that spelling still matters, grammar still matters, editing still matters and style still matters. Let’s get back to the future…before it is too lait…err…late.