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A Reporter's Tale of Dread

I used to be a newspaper sports writer. And while there are many things to lament about that particular lot in life, there was one that stood out for me.

It was the sense of dread. And I'm not talking about the dread of seeing your tiny pay stub every two weeks, the dread of having to watch miserable high school football teams fall into each other deep into a muggy Friday night, or the dread of falling victim to a massive layoff. The kind of dread I'm talking about was more gnawing, more existential than those tangible concerns.

The dread I'm talking about is the dread of the uncorrectable mistake.

Once you file your story, usually late at night and under a certain amount of pressure, it's out of your hands. The copy editors will glance over it, but they're more concerned with slapping it on the page and sending it to the press on time so they don't get yelled at the next day.

And so my dread began when the story is turned over to the desk, when the adrenaline of getting it done on deadline began to wear off. I would turn the story over in my mind, pondering minor details and phrasing. Eventually, I would encounter a mistake I may or may not have made. I frantically pull up the draft of my story and usually found a false alarm - I didn't make the mistake I thought I might have made, or I caught it. After a while, I would leave.

The drive home only made the situation worse. As I continued to unwind, the doubt began to take over. The more I tried to forget about work, the more it insinuated itself into my thoughts. Usually, all the worry was for naught - I was a pretty good reporter, and my stories were almost always completely accurate. But sometimes, my fears were justified.

The mistake would rise out of my unconcious and smack me in the face. A misspelled name. A botched stat. An error of grammar. The worst part about it was the feeling of utter helplessness. You've realized your mistake, and it won't be read for another few hours or so, but there's nothing you can do in the meantime to fix it. Your mistake is in hundreds of cars headed to thousands of homes and businesses, and the people there will read it, right there under your name.

If your mistake is obvious enough, a lot of people will notice it, and you'll be branded an idiot by citizens across your city and county. If it's a subtle statistical error, it might be overlooked by all but a couple of coaches. If you misspelled the name of an obscure player, you might not hear about it. But you'll imagine that this was the only time this kid did something good enough to earn a mention in the newspaper, and you'll live with the guilt that you screwed it up for him. And you'll picture it on his wall in a frame, a flawed record of his perfect moment.

What does all this have to do with the Heat? Besides nothing, you mean? Here's what caused my tortured soul to stir today, from a story about Dwyane Wade in the Chicago Tribune. A minor mistake, but deflating for those of us who have made them:

The Miami Heat star was back at his alma mater, Richards, Tuesday filming a commercial for Converse and shortening the school day for a grateful student body that packed the gym for the two-hour shoot.

"When I was here, it meant a lot to me," said Richards, who flew from Miami to Peoria last March to cheer the Bulldogs onto their first state basketball title. "Eight years ago, this is where I first began to dream about college and the NBA."