The (Original) Apprentice

This is my favorite Tweet ever:

@maggcass : “best feeling in the world: looking across the newsroom to see the editor proofing your story with his head in his hands. Jk it’s the worst.”

Why do I love it? First, in a decade, people won’t relate. “A newsroom? What’s that?” Or, “Ew, you mean you actually had to SEE your editor? I just e-mail.”

Second, the same thing happened to me countless times. In my first journalism job, I slaved over many a mini-masterpiece on, say, J.V. girls sports. Convinced I had achieved the perfect mix of facts and finesse, I saved it into the editing queue. *CLICK*

It might win a prize or something!

Then, I’d look over at one of the men—always men—reviewing my piece. A scowl. A sigh. Some would curse aloud as they began re-typing the entire article. I’d turn purple with embarrassment and wait for my copy to show up in the publication queue.

I’d search for a single sentence—a single word!—that survived. For the first 3-4 months, the articles that appeared beneath my name contained very little of my own actual writing.

Luckily, my father was a journalist for four decades in New York City and convinced me to stick with it. He told his own stories of copy returning in a sea of red pencil. It gave him headaches trying to decipher the meaning of the angry red scribbles and re-typing everything to the editor’s satisfaction.

The experience shaped him. I, too, found that after a while I became better. After a few months of abject humiliation, I wrote something that actually made it into the paper untouched.

Looking back, I realize I was lucky. I imagine this is how an Italian shoemaker or a Parisian dressmaker learns their trade. Their first several attempts are probably ripped apart by exasperated masters. Eventually, though—if they stick with it—they get there.

Does this kind of thing still go on? Do parents still tell their kids to stick at it in an entry-level job where the bosses are short-tempered and sometimes vulgar but great at what they do? Are kids today inclined to take criticism? Or have they all been so thoroughly convinced of their own unique superbness that they quit at the first sign of disrespect?

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  1. I’m not sure, but I think my favorite line might be “short-tempered and sometimes vulgar but great at what they do.” That pretty much describes most of the great newspeople I’ve worked with! Why can’t I get away with that in my life, though, that’s my question!

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