I Killed Margaret Thatcher (Sort of)

What Women Really Think
April 17 2013 6:00 AM

I Killed Margaret Thatcher (Sort of)

166652799
I had killed Margret Thatcher, my colleague said, by way of web site.

Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

More than two years ago, when I buzzed into the newsroom of The Times of London to start my graveyard shift as a sub-editor, Margaret Thatcher’s health was failing from the flu, and my ambition as a journalist was on life-support from a regular bout of editing obituaries for the digital edition. I didn’t realize it yet, but death would threaten us both that night.

As a fairly new American transplant to London, I worked on the newspaper’s iPad desk writing headlines, checking copy, cropping photos and posting digital content. It was The Times of London. I would have cleaned toilets just to gain entry. But, like many budding writers, my plan was to impress my boss with my brilliant wordsmithing and move up quickly to the features desk.

As I walked through the lift doors and into the modern sprawl of flashing computer monitors and focused journalists that autumn evening, the energy was palpable. The office air seemed infused with the potential for greatness. All I had to do was breathe it in and I felt emboldened, even to spend the next eight hours chopping and cropping the registry of the notable dead (or near dead).

Advertisement

That night, a few seconds after jumping knee-deep into the proverbial grave, my colleague, Hanna, leaned over and dropped a guillotine on my aspirations of graduating from the iPad desk.

I had killed Margret Thatcher, she said, by way of web site.

Ms. Thatcher, of course, had survived the flu the night before. However, a careless slip of my mouse 24 hours earlier had published a draft obituary to the paper’s web site—falsely announcing her death.. Oops.

My heart plummeted into my stomach, where it pounded like a bass drum. This was a blunder of international proportions. I went into panic mode, with a reel of potential headlines zinging through my mind.

Times of London Falsely Announces Thatcher’s Death.

Correction: Margaret Thatcher Not Dead, Sub Editor Fired.

I phoned Mike, a web editor, to face the consequences. Feigning calmness, I took slow deep breaths and experienced the sting of potential self-implosion, laced equally in the newsroom air along with all that potential greatness.

Mike was clearly not pleased, but he surprisingly found humor in the situation. The Times was the first major news organization in the UK to launch a pay-wall; traffic on the site in those days was pitifully low.

As far as he knew, only he and a couple of other editors had noticed the report, which was quickly taken down, that the longest standing British prime minister of the 20th century had died—but not really.

I apologized profusely and promised to take extra care when editing potential live ammo inside the digital platform. My adrenaline levels slowly dropped as I realized Mike wasn’t going to boot me. I had never been more thankful for low web traffic in my life. I put down the phone and let out a nervous laugh. I had killed Margret Thatcher. Who knew sub-editing obits could be so hazardous?

I left the paper in 2011 to have a baby, but this personal war story is one that will live on in my mind forever. Ms. Thatcher, may she finally rest in peace, holds a special place in my heart, not only as a formidable woman in world history, but also as a reminder to stay grounded, humble and uncomfortably focused on the details.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today In GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.