Just about every day, someone tells me I’m too introspective, too intellectual, too worried about what people think.
But that’s who I am. I’m a thinker. Yes, I over-think things. I’m a nerd– it’s fun for me.
But that’s a good quality.
I accept this about myself!
Being a thinker is what makes me a writer. A good friend. A responsible, law-abiding citizen.
I care more about doing what’s BEST in the big picture. I don’t live by my whims. I may be spontaneous when it comes to going to a movie alone or hopping in my car to drive to Chicago and visit a friend– but I’m not reckless about things that matter. Rules and the feelings of others are important to me– because I believe that order serves a good purpose most of the time.
There are somethings about which I will not compromise: the things which make up my core identity and values. My Catholic faith is something about which I do not compromise. And I’ve learned to stop apologizing about it.
But I’m open to knowing why others choose a different way, as long as their agenda is not to convert me to their perspective. As long as they are respectful. I do like to listen to others, though I don’t like to argue.
If I’m remembered for anything, I would hope it would be fairness.
Although I’m no longer working for a newspaper, those journalism instincts are deeply ingrained into me. I always try to put ethics and diplomacy first. And in some situations, the answer is not obvious– and there is no “right” answer. That’s when you need to think critically and then make your decision with confidence and move forward. Sometimes it helps to get a second opinion. But as we get older, hopefully we need outside opinions less. And sometimes we don’t arrive at the “right” answer until we’ve tried some other options that failed. But we learn from that, and that leads us to be more confident and make better decisions QUICKER next time.
What I still love about journalism is the focus on accuracy. It’s a business built on deadlines and trying to “scoop,” the competition. The paper’s reputation is built on credibility. As a reporter, it’s your job to validate your leads and prove they are true– but you’re also in a crunch to get the story first. Sometimes the best thing is to wait, and confirm one last detail. Get one more source, to add more depth to the story. You have to know that your SOURCES are credible and ethical. Sometimes sitting on a story is the best move, because you’ll find the angle the competition missed while rushing to scoop you. That’s why we have editors– they know the business better, and have an instinct on when to go to print and when to wait for further confirmation.
The whole business model of journalism is designed to eliminate errors. But they happen. Reporters are human, and make mistakes. Some sources lie, and fool even the veterans. Sometimes we don’t have access to the full story before going to print– but that’s when you do a follow-up story.
Some stories are just a one-time deal. Some stories keep unfolding for a weeks, months, years.
The point is, rushing is not the answer.
To admit you’re wrong is the hardest thing for any of us to do. It means sacrificing our pride. It means admitting that we missed something important, made an incorrect assumption, or totally misinterpreted something vital. It degrades our intellect. A retraction compromises your reputation– both as a reporter, and as a newspaper.
As a reporter, your job is on the line if you have too many retractions. So you end up living a very high-stress life. Your mind and your stories are expected to be flawless, as policy. And that’s an impossible standard for anyone.
But life interrupts us. Feelings happen– we doubt ourselves. Sometimes it’s the doubt that kills the story. We have to just persevere, and believe in our judgement to the best of our ability. Others may doubt us. We have to validate ourselves, trust our gut.
It’s better to admit failure than to withhold the truth out of vanity.
It may feel awful to need a retraction in those moments.
But in doing so, you’re preserving your integrity.
Because to publicly admit that you messed up takes character. It demonstrates good faith. And it motivates you to work harder.
The people who refuse to admit they were wrong, who would sooner let an inaccurate story go to press without stopping it– those are the people you can’t trust. The ones who don’t tell their editor, because they fear for their job more than the public’s right to accurate information– those are the people who are unreliable. Eventually, those type of reporters lose the trust of their sources. And they may end their careers because of vanity.
We all have to make decisions– and we’re bound to mess up, because we’re human.
But our saving grace is the retraction– the apology.