You know that Little Old Lady who takes great joy in torturing journalists? I hate her.

October 19, 2011

Little Old Lady has haunted me my entire journalism career.

I’ve never actually met her but I imagine her to be sour of expression, someone who stands in her front yard shaking her cane at the kids playing in the street, berating them for being too loud, having too much hair, wearing their pants too low and their baseball caps backwards.

She owns a small dog and feeds it slices of cheese even though that nice man on the TV says human food is not good for animals. She knits while she watches daytime soaps and yells at the characters for being gullible fools. She doesn’t answer the phone if it rings during American Idol, thinking only an idiot would dare interrupt quite possibly the greatest entertainment ever invented.

She forgets where she put her glasses. She sometimes forgets to put her teeth in. She believes anyone who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War has the God-given right to bitch about everything and anything.

And, oh yeah, she hates me. Or, more specifically, my writing. In fact, she hates all journalism.

I know this to be true because every newspaper I’ve ever worked for — a Times, a Star, a News, a Herald, another Herald and now a Courier — fear Little Old Lady more than they fear the Internet.

Which is why every story I’ve ever written — every story you see printed in a respectable newspaper — has to pass this litmus test: Will it offend Little Old Lady? If an editor experiences even the slightest niggle that Little Old Lady will take umbrage with the content, the story will be edited or quite possibly  killed.

Little Old Lady enjoys sharing her opinions. Her morals violated by something she finds offensive, she will phone an editor to vent her spleen. Or, even worse, mail (!) a handwritten (!!) letter explaining, in no uncertain terms that, should the paper continue to print such objectionable trash, she will have no alternative but to cancel her subscription. No one has the balls to tell Little Old Lady that the paper is actually delivered free.

I was envisioning Little Old Lady this week while writing a story about a new horse trail. On the surface, this is not the sort of story that would normally raise wrinkled hackles but my plan was to use the word “shirty” to describe some rather nasty people who’d objected to equestrian invaders.

“Shirty” is one of those Kiwi-isms Viking Woman and I encountered when we moved to New Zealand. I know it’s not a real (read: North American) word but I have this sneaky hunch Kiwis use it in polite company when what they really mean is “shitty.”

Is Old Little Old Lady going to read that sentence and not give it a second thought because, after all, that’s how everyone speaks here?

Or will she stop short, raise a weathered eyebrow, clack her dentures in disgust and reach a quivering hand for the phone?

I guess I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

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