From AJR, September 1998 issue
A Columnist's Farewell
By Sinéad OBrien
Sinéad O'Brien is a former AJR editorial assistant.
PATRICIA SMITH'S FINAL Globe column on June 19 was an apology which is excerpted below:
My daddy gave the newspaper a pulse. He taught me to love its changing canvas, its omnipotent eye, its infinite throat. And since one long-ago tabloid featured his obituary, it's much too late to apologize to him for compromising that love.
But it's not too late to apologize to you.
From time to time in my Metro column, to create the desired impact or to slam home a salient point, I attributed quotes to people who didn't exist. I could give them names, I could give them occupations, but I couldn't give them what they needed most--a heartbeat. As anyone who's ever touched a newspaper knows, that's one of the cardinal sins of journalism: Thou shall not fabricate. No exceptions. No excuses.
And yet there are always excuses. Usually they point to the cursed fallibility of human beings, our tendency to spit in the face of common sense, zigging when the world says zag. Sometimes excuses reveal real or imagined inadequacies, or the belief that the world, if it is to be conquered, must be conquered singlehandedly....
In Boston, my face was my column. I wanted the pieces to jolt, to be talked about, to leave the reader indelibly impressed. And sometimes, as a result of doing too much at once and cutting corners, they didn't. So I tweaked them to make sure they did. It didn't happen often, but it did happen. And if it had only happened once, that was one time too many.
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