Symbols matter. And attentive proofreading does too… Although most of the internet was lit up with instant finger pointing and mockery of the glaring Washington Post blunder, this kind of error deserves a deeper look. There were multiple levels of mistakes here – and it’s important not to mix them together if we are going to have an intelligent and productive critique.

A cover article about a women’s march actually featured the male symbol as its eye-catching artwork. It would be good to know how this really happened. Is this an indication of a system that doesn’t have enough women in creative and/or directorial process? Is this an example of the problems in our post-post-modern meta culture that has lost its understanding and use of common communication symbols? Who designed this and did they have enough creative direction? Or is it really an indication of lack of attention and review process. Does the Washington Post Express have a well-designed system and enough eyes or time to check things before they go to print? This last question is a serious one for our field. In this age of instant, editable information, we may have lost some of the rigor that is needed to make real-life artifacts, which are still needed for transmitting information physically.

The fact that the Washington Post Twitter announcement and subsequent apology each had typos too indicates a break down in attentiveness. #SlowDown #PayAttention This is a different (maybe related, but still different) problem than systemic inequality or disconnection from cultural symbolism and we should look at those issues differently.

Mistakes happen. We wouldn’t wish something like this on anyone – it’s embarrassing and the WaPo immediately apologized and issued a new cover (Shout out to the poor graphic designer who had to whip that up in record time even if they were the original mistake-maker. The original error getting published is really the responsibility of an Art or Creative Director, if they even have those still at WaPo). Critique is a necessary part of the work of creative communications. It would be good for everyone if the critique happened before things get published, but we also have an opportunity to dig more deeply and seize these moments to make all communication better in our society.

Are we all paying attention as much as we can even in quick communication? Do we all have proofreading built into our process? Rather than being so quick to judge, are we sure we’re using symbols, words and images the way we intend them to be used? The medium matters too. We have a PEOTUS now mixing his personal thoughts/opinions with declarations that are politically charged on Twitter. Are we losing our ability to distinguish fleeting ephemeral ideas from official “published” and vetted communication in our “post-truth” culture (2016 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries…sigh)? This is a very serious issue and we shouldn’t get distracted by the entertainment of shaming.

Now, I better take the time to proofread this post again before I hit “publish.”

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