Some mistakes can be costly

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT staff writer

And you thought making a few innocent mistakes at work was bad, like accidentally hanging up on your boss or inadvertently deleting an e-mail message you were supposed to forward.

Or you felt guilty for wasting company resources, like accidentally using two instead of one of those little Post-It Notes to write a message, leaving the lights or your computer on over night or, even worse, forgetting to save a file that you spent precious minutes working on, perhaps even hours or days.

Try and beat this: With a single keystroke, an employee at the Alaska Department of Revenue accidentally wiped out a disk drive last fall containing an account worth $38 billion. Ooops! So much for getting the Employee of the Month award.

To make matters worse, the computer technician mistakenly reformatted the backup drive. Even with this, you would think there was still a drop of hope, but then the department discovered its third line of defense, backup tapes, were unreadable.

Talk about having a bad day. The mistake cost $200,000.

And I felt bad when I worked for the Hobbs News-Sun in the late 1990s and, because of my careless donut crumbs, the newspaper had to call an exterminator. I had gotten into the bad habit of eating while working. Wait, let’s turn that around. I was working while eating. That sounds better. Munching on a donut while feverishly writing a news story on deadline.

Well unbeknownst to me, a well-intentioned employee who had the company’s best interest at heart, donut crumbs started building up in and around my computer keyboard and desk, and one Monday morning we discovered a colony of ants moving into my lifestyles section of the newsroom.

During our weekly meeting, our editor, Manny Marquez, announced a new newsroom policy. Looking in my direction he said, “No more eating at your desks!”

Of course, the editors soon forgot about this policy when some of us reporters started retreating to the break room to sit down and have our morning coffee and donuts and were not at our desks to answer the telephones during breaking news.

Needless to say, I felt guilty for that unexpected exterminator expense. However, I’m sure the company quickly recouped the cost through my hard-hitting, investigative, newspaper-rack opening stories on designer mailboxes, hat fashions, shopping bag collections and do-it-yourself taxidermy.

Now, if I had wiped out a hard drive for a billion-dollar account, though, I just might have called in sick the next day, assuming I still had a job. The computer tech story, which I read on CNN.com, did not state what happened to the employee.

On a couple of occasions, I have paginated (did newspaper layout on computer) the entire news section of the Clovis News Journal or Portales News-Tribune and I have wondered what would happen, when it was getting close to deadline, if I accidentally deleted the entire document. Oops!

Fortunately, I did not find out.

Once, I accidentally deleted a reporter’s beauty pageant story, which she had written for the coming Sunday’s edition. I had to break the bad news to her on a Friday afternoon, just as she was walking out the door for the day … for the weekend … or so she thought.

Ruth had a remarkably good attitude when I told her. She said, “Oh that’s OK,” and almost with a smile she added. “I’ll just have to write it again!”

If it had been me back then, I probably would have totally freaked out and uttered a couple of curse words. But I’ve learned to not freak out so much anymore and have realized that we’re all human, from the people at McDonald’s to the Internal Revenue Service. We all make occasional mistakes. Some people just make bigger and much costlier mistakes than others.