Bons mots

Slips of my tongue


Last week the blogosphere picked up a story about a PR Newswire employee who was fired for slugging a release inappropriately. (If you are unfamiliar with the industry, a “slug” is a short label which helps editors figure out at a glance what the story is about (CP Stylebook). For example, “Leafs-win-Cup” would be a slug for a story about the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup (like that would ever happen).

Anyhow, this employee was formatting a release about a rally taking place in Philadelphia to raise political awareness of mental illness and homelessness. She slugged the release “loony-bin-rally”. 

Something like this would typically go unnoticed by the public, since a news release slug would only be seen by the news media in their wire terminals. However, one intrepid reporter spotted the insensitive slug and notified PR Newswire about it. And it must have been a slow day in the newsroom because he then wrote about it. And like all good stories about complete and utter stupidity, it spread like a virus.

PR Newswire responded with an official public apology and the employee was terminated for exhibiting “very poor judgement.” (Ya think?) Personally, I think they handled it the only way they could. Keep in mind that PR Newswire distributes thousands of news releases a day and it would be logistically difficult to vet each release before it is sent out. They must rely on their employees to practice good judgement and this comes from having faith in their staff and hiring practices. However, it just takes one bad apple to spoil the entire barrel. And in this case, they got rid of it.

This wasn’t a case of some poorly-trained employee making a small mistake. It was an act of pure ignorance and insensitivity. If someone believes it is perfectly acceptable to refer to the mentally ill as “loonies” it wouldn’t be a huge assumption to think this same person would ascribe offensive labels to other minority groups. Could they have given the employee a second chance? I wouldn’t. Having worked in a newswire service, you can train a person on where a slug is placed but you cannot train them on what to put in there. That comes from common sense. And that, my friends, is incredibly hard to teach.


January 22, 2008 Posted by | Why the world is going to hell in a handbasket | , , , | 1 Comment


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