Rogers: Can’t misspell the mayor’s name
With new hires in the newsroom, eventually we have The Talk. Nothing so interesting as birds or bees.
We go through the crazy editor’s coverage chart. I track bylines, how many and how good. I track about everything you can count. Briefs, stories we’ve used from sister papers, staff reports, freelance, local photos, what’s in sections, number of pages in an edition, the competition’s pages and stories. Each day, by the week, the month, the year, a career-long obsession.
I can see trends, track when a reporter might have been depressed, compare election seasons. Watch the patterns in letters to the editor, total units of local content for us and for them, and on and on.
I use it to set expectations for beats, to understand and evaluate writers, to help see where we’re strong and weak, which days tend to be better than others. Every paper has its fingerprint.
The coverage chart is no more than a data point, one dashboard among many inputs. But it’s a good tool, and I’m always stunned to learn other editors don’t keep track like that. Among the blessings is making sure I read each edition enough to fill in the chart.
I invariably make this one stupid joke when I take a new reporter through it and we get to my kooky, subjective scoring system for quality. I give extra points for something standout from the good, solid regular story. Scoop, great writing, novel topic, “real” people in the text beyond the regular official sources, effort, and so on. It’s subjective but consistent to my subjectivity. Not so different than any class in which essays are graded.
More seldomly, I subtract points for poorer work, things they should know better. Like, say, misspelling the mayor’s name. Ha, ha. Moving on.
THE MAYOR’S NAME
One of the reporters noticed first. Is it Rachel or Rachael Richards? Most of us were in the office that day. In the dawn of the post-COVID age, this has evolved into an almost frequent thing, working together in person. I like the liveliness, must say. And the conversations that spring up.
Ohmygod, we’ve been misspelling her name about half the time! And not only us. Look: the Daily News, Aspen Journalism, Aspen Public Radio, and going back years. Even governments are mixed up, sometimes Rachel, sometimes Rachael. Everyone has been casually getting it wrong, willy nilly.
How could we all be so blind? What is it about Rachel/Rachael anyway? My wife was disgusted with me when I spelled my daughter’s name wrong at way too great an age, our Rachel an adolescent then.
I take pains to spell names correctly all the time at work — or like to think so — whether as writer or editor racing through others’ work, or copy editor in final proofing. And I couldn’t spell my own daughter’s name correctly? It’s Rachel, seared now into my hide like a brand.
In the newsroom we looked at each other, dumbfounded. We determined the proper spelling was Rachael. Our newest reporter, Julie, remembered being told and was happy not to have succumbed, at least not yet. I recalled aloud when I met Rachael at a City Council meeting and we talked about my Rachel and her, a Rachael. And still we’d misspelled her name in the paper since then. Yep, looked like about half the time.
We wondered why Rachael hadn’t pointed this out. I shrugged in that I don’t care what you call me — or spell my name — sort of way. It’s usually my last name that causes similarly subtle trouble. I’m a Rogers, like Will and Mister, but plenty of people spell me Rodgers and occasionally call me worse.
But damn, I’d been scoring stories with “Rachel” Richards too high, plainly.
A MYSTERY SOLVED
I called Rachael to apologize, to laugh at how all of Aspen couldn’t keep her name straight and wasn’t that kind of, well, weird? I knew she was blessed with a lively sense of humor. But why hadn’t she ever corrected us?
I caught her busy and between things, as elected folks tend to be.
“We’ve been misspelling …”
“No, you haven’t,” she said, laughing. “You haven’t.”
OK, she must be too busy, I thought. Obviously she didn’t understand.
“I thought my name was spelled Rachel,” she said. Then she lost her driver’s license and needed her birth certificate for a replacement. And there it was: Rachael. Right there in the birth certificate.
She’d been misspelling her own name all her life, going back to Catholic school. If you could call this misspelling, exactly.
In the age of Homeland Security and all, she realized it probably made the most sense to square with her birth certificate. For getting on planes and all.
But she has credit cards under Rachel. Her private email signature remains Rachel. Linkedin from her county commissioner days says Rachel. She’s Rachael and Rachel interchangeably on the websites as well as in the news articles.
Rachael, Rachel, all good. She answers to both. No doubt she still spells her own name both ways, maybe tending toward Rachel when tired, out of long habit. She doesn’t keep score.
It might have been different, though.
While the priest baptized her as a newborn, he started to say “Ang…”
“No stop!” her mother cried out. “I’ve changed my mind.”
Today’s confusion might have been averted if the former mayor, county commissioner and current councilwoman winding up her public career had been baptized Angela.
Now there’s a name you couldn’t possibly screw up.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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