I’ll never forget the day in 2014 I was sitting in my office (the old one in Liberty Station) and Sara Libby came around the corner, white as a ghost.
“What happened???” she said.
“What?” I asked.
She told me to pull up the site. Our headline that day had been about Lincoln High School and a school district projection that much of the class of 2016 was not on track to meet graduation standards. It had been “The Ominous Cloud Hanging Over the Class of 2016” but on the site it read “The Ominous Butt Hanging Over the Class of 2016.”
Our minds raced. Were we hacked? Had an employee gone rogue? We flew into action, searching the site for other oddities, making calls to our service providers and talking to reporters. Finally, our engagement editor realized what had happened.
She had gotten exasperated with the word “cloud.” Companies everywhere were rushing to put their information and networks online as opposed to local servers – on “the cloud.” She amused herself by turning all references to “cloud” on her browser to “butt.” And that happened when she was editing the post about the school.
Sara and I will never forget that. We can make ourselves laugh about it on command no matter what else is going on.
But we’ll have to do that more proactively now. Sara came into my office the other day and let me know that after nine years as Voice of San Diego’s managing editor, she had taken a job at the San Francisco Chronicle as politics editor. She’ll undoubtedly write about it in an upcoming What We Learned This Week.
Sara may be the best writer I have ever worked with – so crisp and succinct. When I edit her work, I sometimes must strain to find errors or inefficient word choice because I really feel like I should be able to find something. I often just can’t.
She takes that skill to editing. And now we have become a group of writers who sees her almost as a safety net – if we fall, we know she’ll catch us. I’ve gone to bed for nine years knowing that she was there making the work sing and headlines roar.
She also taught me a lot of things. On op-eds, for example, we got burned in 2016 when we ran a submission by then County Supervisor Ron Roberts. He was responding to our investigation about SANDAG and whether the agency could make good on old promises even though it had been misleading people about how much money it was set to bring in.
Later, when his words came under scrutiny by investigators and us, he said he hadn’t actually written the piece – just signed his name to someone else’s words.
This solidified a principle Sara had been working on: She would press all writers of op-eds to confirm, to her directly, that they had actually written them. If an assistant or staff member had, they would need to include them or be the byline. But if someone wanted to have their byline on it, never again would she let them say they didn’t write it.
Genius. I will manage with that in mind forever.
So what now? Maybe we need to take the opportunity to shake things up a bit. I don’t know for sure. We’ll be having a lot of conversations in coming weeks, and I welcome your ideas.
For now, I’m just going to thank Sara for being my buddy whenever something crazy came down. There is definitely an ominous butt hanging over our future.