“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”
― Mark Twain
Back when I was a reporter, there was a loyal yet somewhat annoying group of readers who picked apart every article and never hesitated to send us a daily critique of our mistakes, real or perceived. Somehow, I’d been lucky enough to miss out on most of their assessments. My fellow reporters, one in particular, made enough errors to keep them busy.
But one day it happened. I got the e-mail, or rather, my editor did. She called me in. “Sorry,” she said. “I don’t even know if he’s right or you’re right. Check your notes.”
I looked at the story. Damn. I’d made a mistake, pure and simple.
“Nope, it’s my mistake,” I told her. “I’ll return the e-mail.”
“Keep it short,” she advised. “Don’t say more than you have to.”
I kept it honest. “Dear Mr. Smith,” I wrote. “Thank you for your e-mail pointing out my error in today’s paper. You were right, it should read ‘this way‘ and not ‘that way.‘ While it’s not an excuse for my mistake, maybe a little explanation would help here. When I was writing the story, I thought the second sentence in paragraph three would work better if I switched it with the second sentence in paragraph two. The problem was, the transition sentence, the first sentence in paragraph three, was then incorrect. I apologize and we will run a correction in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Good luck,” the other reporters told me. “Mr. Smith is a jerk.”
Well, so be it. I sent off the e-mail. Not three minutes later I received a call. It was Mr. Smith.
“I don’t care that you made the mistake,” he said. “We all make mistakes. But you’re the first reporter to admit it. I usually get a bunch of crazy excuses with the blame placed anywhere but on the reporter.”
I thanked Mr. Smith and smiled. It wasn’t the first mistake I’d made, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. But admitting it gave me the freedom to make more without someone calling me a fool, or losing their respect.
It also kept them off my back.
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