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Ken Magill

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Walmart's New Bricks-and-Mortar Strategy and Why Writers Need Editors

2/4/14

By Ken Magill

My college journalism mentor, Charlie Adair, held that the best editors have dirty minds. They can spot sentences with embarrassing, unintended double meanings, he said.

The following is an example of what Charlie was talking about from marketing trade publication Total Customer:

“While Amazon can sit pretty, feeling safe that Walmart won’t manage to graze it’s [sic] eCommerce model for the next year or two. Walmart has set its sights on beating off the brick-and-mortar competition, while also heading to the top of the online food-chain.”

That’s a heck of a strategy. You know the old saying: If you can’t beat ‘em, masturbate ‘em.

Yes, the whole paragraph is a mess. Its badly constructed sentences reek of “look, Ma, I’m writing.”

But “beating off the brick-and-mortar competition” trumps all. Nothing the article says is taken seriously after that.

The phrase the writer struggled in vain for was “beating back,” as in “beating back an army.” One does not beat off a hoard of advancing barbarians.

As a writer, you want people laughing with you when appropriate, but never at you.

And from a corporate standpoint, when people are laughing at your writers, they’re laughing at your brand.

There are very few writers who can be trusted to publish articles and blog posts without someone else reading them first. I have an informal editorial team that doesn’t read everything I write before it goes online, but at least one of them reads most of it.

And the wife reads all of it immediately after it goes up. Basically on Tuesdays I publish and then wait for the phone to ring.

“Hello?”

“Second piece, ninth paragraph, did you really mean to say…?”

“Oops, no. I’ll fix that right away.”

Even having a professional copy desk is no guarantee against embarrassing mistakes.

Some years back, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an article referring to a hockey player who had begun scoring more ever since he began taking regular shifts.

Trouble was they left the “f” out of “shifts.” And this mistake was committed in print so it couldn’t be fixed. But at least everyone reading it knew, or should have known, it was a typo.

As a result, the “beating off” mistake is worse than the “shift” typo. The “beating off” mistake indicates the writer has a superficial grasp of the written English word, leading the reader to question his depth on everything else.

It also makes questionable his publisher’s commitment to quality overall. Is that what you want your corporate blog to accomplish?

Corporate blogs don’t necessarily need someone or a team to edit copy before it goes up. Over editing is another common corporate mistake.

But someone other than the writer—preferably someone with a dirty mind—should at least read it first.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Sanjeev
Date: 2014-02-04 23:51:12
Subject: Beating off

In british english, you can say you beat off the competition to mean defeat someone who is attacking you. To me, the more grievous damage is done by the incorrect apostrophe.

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