Earlier this summer, I wrote about the mini-crisis I had when I found out an assignment I was researching was due that week and no one had told me. That one, I’ll admit, was largely my fault, since I didn’t ask what my deadline was.
But I learned from my mistake. After that snafu, I made a point of always asking when my assignments were due.
That’s why this recent incident is particularly frustrating. I had been assigned a small piece for a web-only supplement to an article, and told I had two weeks to do it.
But last week, I got an email from the assigning editor asking if the piece was done yet. I was a little surprised, since it was a full week and a half before the deadline I had been given, but I told the editor I would try to get it to him the next day.
I frantically sent a third follow-up email to the source I needed for the story and tried to call him multiple times, but with the time difference and other factors, he didn’t get back to me. I waited, and called, and emailed, and called other people from the organization, and crossed my fingers and prayed to the journalism gods, but by 4 p.m. the next day, I still didn’t have the interview I needed and couldn't write the piece.
I felt terrible. I couldn’t find the right words to tell the editor that I didn’t have the story. I tried to write him an email, but there was no way to express how awful I felt without sounding whiny or pathetic or just incompetent. So I went to his office and sheepishly explained that I had tried – really, I had – but didn’t have the interview yet.
My editor was understanding enough – turns out he had misunderstood when the web team needed the piece, which is why he had told me I had two weeks to write it. When I heard this I was a little angry. Why was I suffering because of my editor’s mistake? Why hadn't he told me earlier he had made a mistake instead of just demanding the story a week and a half early? Was he going to apologize for making me scramble and feel terrible about myself when I hadn’t actually done anything wrong?
Of course, he's the editor, so he doesn’t have to apologize. I have to apologize. And even though I really didn’t believe it, and even though I wanted to scream, I told him, “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault.”
I was upset for a while. I felt like a failure, and I was mad my editor had made me feel that way, because I know I could’ve gotten that interview in three days if I hadn’t thought I had two weeks. But a few days later, the editor came by with another assignment. I was shocked, thinking I had lost his trust forever by blowing the first story, but it turns out he really appreciated that I had taken responsibility for missing the deadline, even though he now acknowledged it wasn’t my fault.
I’m glad I took responsibility for this mistake, even though I’m not sure it was entirely my fault, because it preserved my relationship with my editor. I guess the way I think of it is that if we were colleagues, I wouldn’t want to throw him under the bus, and just because I'm an intern it shouldn't be any different. But I’m also still a little upset that the whole incident made me look inept as a reporter.
So what do you think, Edsters? Did I do the right thing? How would you handle a situation like this?