Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Your personal life needs to be on flash paper

These days the smoking gun is rarely a gun. It's an email, a text, a facebook note, a tweet.

Yep, putting stuff in writing can really come back to bite you.

Today's news is filled with alleged Tiger Woods texts, emails from the White House to the couple that allegedly crashed the party.

No gun, no gunpowder, no CSI forensics. Just words.

Which reminds me of a very valuable piece of advice I got as a kid from the neighborhood bookie. We'll call him Sal.

Sal used to amuse the kids by giving us pieces of flash paper. It's the stuff used by magicians, special paper that when touched by a flame goes up instantly in a flash. It leaves no ashes.

No evidence.

It was cool stuff. I used to impress my friends at school with it. Then one day I asked Sal why he had so much flash paper.

Bookies, for the benefit of those who don't have a vowel at the end of their last names, use flash paper to write down the bets from their customers. They also always have a burning cigarette nearby, even if they don't smoke. "If the cops bust through the door," said Sal, "you just touch the cigarette to the paper and there's no evidence." He touched the cigarette to a sheet of paper and poof! it was gone.

Then Sal gave me a great piece of advice. "Never write nuthin' down, kid. Then it can't come back to bite you."

So it amazes me how people in newsrooms write down personal feelings all the time on their computers and cell phones.

I was amazed when I was a manager that some employees wanted to argue in writing rather than come into my office. Naturally I always printed out everything, in case I ever needed a paper trail. (Yes, managers cover their own tails just like everyone else.)

Over the years I've seen a bunch of people get into serious trouble for putting things in writing.

So, bottom line, don't. If you think your ND is a jerk, fine. Just don't write it down. In fact, don't write anything down.

And if you're not sure, ask yourself this question. "Can what I've just written ever come back to bite me?"

In reality, if you have to ask the question, the answer is usually yes.

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