Back in 2004 I was a young, insecure photojournalist for The Palm Beach Post. I’ve been reading old journals lately and being reminded of the bullshit toxic crap we all dealt with in the newsroom. Was it also awesome? Was I also surrounded by smart, sardonic humans who wanted to tell stories? Were we all proud of the gauntlet we went through to be journalists?


But, still, real toxic.

I read an entry last night about how I struggled with spelling errors in my photo captions. I describe getting an email from the Neighborhood Post editor who I’ll call Tom because that was his name, informing me that if I make another caption error I’ll be put on probation, which leads to suspension, which leads to getting fired.

Neighborhood Post was a section for the paper I shot photos for, and looking back on it, it was inhumane. I had eight to ten photo shoots to schedule per week and they were all over the county. Sometimes I’d drive forty-five minutes a just to get to one shoot. I’d find out on Monday morning what the stories would be about, and the photo sessions had to be scheduled, shot, and filed by Friday morning. So really I have four days to do it all.

Then I describe how another editor, who I’ll call John because that was his name, came to me the next day and told me that although Tom asked him to say nothing to me, he heard about my spelling errors. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to show he was my superior also, John then told me I’m a good photographer and he doesn’t want me to get fired, but that’s what will happen if things don’t change.

In my journal I express appreciation for him telling me that I was a good photographer, but now I see it was just another opportunity grabbed by him to scare me, which seemed to be something that happened a lot there.

I’ve never heard of a photographer getting fired for spelling errors. That’s not a thing!

“I’m feeling frightened and it’s my own doing” I wrote, “I’m so incredibly ASHAMED. Perhaps I am not suited for this field at all? What else can I do? What else can I offer (the world)? If I got fired, I’d never be able to work in this field again. I would feel beyond mortified for my parents. I would lose my health insurance. I have very little respect for myself at the moment. I know I’m a good person, but I wonder what’s ahead of me. Right now, it’s not looking too good.” I write, “I don’t think it’s possible for me to not make a mistake.”

Then I write about an incident that happened about a week later when I apparently was late filing photos leading into the Christmas holiday because we were given an earlier deadline to turn them in, and I had no idea about the earlier deadline.

I talk about how diligent I am with filing my photos. How I may be struggling with spelling errors, but I always make deadline and often I file well before the deadline, so the agitation coming off my editor is pretty inflated.

In a phone call with me, Tom tells me that an email was sent out about the early deadline. I’m angry that I’m being treated so rudely so I delay my response, not wanting to be unprofessional. When I’m silent, he says in a snide tone, “Oh, You just don’t READ your emails!”

“Tom, I read my emails! I never received one regarding an changed deadline!”

“Oh” he said sheepishly, realizing he must not have sent me one, and then follows up with an accusatory “Why aren’t you on my group email list!?”

He didn’t apologize. I see now I was owed one.

A few journal entries later there’s a Neighborhood Post article clipping taped on a page. It’s a review of a new CD by local musician James Harding. Beneath the tiny photo of the musician’s CD is says “James Harrison’s CD”. It is not my photo. It is not my caption. Either a writer or a copy editor – professionals who’s job it is to work with words – misspelled his last name and did so with the correct spelling of his name right there in front of them in the story accompanying the tiny photo.

I wonder if they were threatened with probation?

Last night, I chatted on the phone with my childhood friend, Tom, (a different Tom than Editor Tom!) and I asked him what he’d tell his younger self if he could.

After reading those entries, I definitely have some things to tell myself. One of them would be “Look at the fun work you’re going to be doing in the future! You’re actually pretty good at this. You still suck at spelling but you suck less, and you work with people who treat you with respect! You won’t believe it!” And then I’d show her this – Click here to see my most recent fun works.

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