I thought I wanted to be on Romenesko, until I was.
It’s not that great of a story. I was a college editor and I hadn’t slept in days. I was tired and, by then, overwhelmed. We did something stupid, then we wrote something stupid, and I pushed it right onto the page. We had a rough couple of weeks dealing with the fallout and I still regret it today. But it’s over, and I learned.
We weren’t the only 20-something journalists who saw their mistakes ripple through the media-on-media blogosphere this year. These days, you do something dumb at your college publication and you’ll probably see yourself on Romenesko, College Media Matters, and a few others besides. (Unfortunately, we also made PR Daily and one HuffPost vertical.)
Below these articles, there’s usually one commenter who goes against the grain, begging the bloggers to leave the college journalists alone. We’re just kids, they argue, and besides, where would today’s professional journalists be if all their mistakes were immortalized on the web?
I deeply appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t agree.
It’s a fact of journalism that sometimes newsworthiness bumps up against someone’s feelings. I’ve never pulled a story for that reason alone, and I don’t expect anything for myself that I wouldn’t offer to others. When I decided to put that editorial up, I took the risk that it would spread through the web.
That’s the risk all of us are taking as college editors in the age of new media. We’re learning by stumbling in a time when all of our mistakes can immediately be blasted around the world. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because let’s face it: it’s not the last risk I’ll be taking if I want to be a journalist.
But I would ask hiring managers and editors: When you Google the name on top of a resume and come across something ill-advised or just plain dumb…please remember how mistakes like that get made. They happen because you were trying, because you pushed far and hard and, one day, pushed a little too far and a little too hard.
Journalism is not a perfectionist’s pursuit. I don’t mean that in terms of accuracy, and I don’t mean that we shouldn’t try tirelessly to make sure our journalism does the most good. I do mean that good journalism can’t be safe. You have to push without being afraid of breaking something and sometimes, well…you break something.
I made little mistakes, and I made a huge one. The same is true, I’d guess, for many of my student media colleagues. But I learned more than I can put into words — not in spite of the fact that I stumbled my way through, but because of it.
When you’re trying to decide whether we’re worth hiring, please remember that we tried hard enough to fail.