While I might seem young, I’ve had a lot of experience with taking criticism in situations where I wasn’t able to offer a rebuttal or excuse—I just had to take it, smile, and say thank you.
The most memorable of these public dressings-down came as part of my work on a newspaper copydesk. The copydesk is different than any other department at a newspaper. We worked in the evening, line editing and fact checking and writing headlines for news stories that would go into the paper the next day. Everything had to be done by midnight. That was it. You did your job fast, well, and efficiently.
As a new editor, the problem came in the form of editing well while having to churn out these edited stories and headlines within a short period of time. Many times I only had time enough to read through the story once, very quickly while checking for style, grammar, spelling, accuracy, possibly libelous statements, etc. Then to write a concise but witty headline that fit in exactly the space provided. It’s not as easy as it sounds, I can promise you that. It’s also an art that will be soon lost in the digital age when a title can be however long the author wants it to be. There are no space limitations on the web.
Anyway, I did fairly well at it, but like any newbie, I made a lot of mistakes. Most nights the copy chief worked as “slot,” the person who checked all the stories and headlines a last time before sending them on. Where I worked, the desks were arranged in a U-shape, with editors’ desks around the outside and the slot desk in the center.
So when I’d make a mistake and the slot would call me over to teach/chastise/try not to strangle me, the entire copy desk could hear it. In detail. Especially since the chief was partially deaf and spoke very loudly. Even his whispers were loud.
I enjoyed working with that copy chief, but he didn’t pull punches when it came to correction. He told me exactly what I was doing wrong, every time I did something wrong. Nothing slid by. I had to be perfect. We all had to be perfect. The paper relied on us as the final front before sending the news out to the world. Our reputation as a news outlet and reporter of local events depended upon the copy being clean, accurate, and error-free.
To anyone who has a hard time accepting criticism without talking back or being filled with rage, take a job somewhere you’ll be forced to accept it without question or retort. It will bruise your soul for a while, but eventually scabs will form and you’ll realize that you are better at your job than many others because you had to get it right or you—and everyone else around you—would hear about it. Loudly.
Then, when a negative review comes in or someone disparages you on Twitter, you will know how to stand there and take it, and maybe even offer a thank you before returning to your chair and getting back to work.
Plus, it’s a lot better to accept criticism and learn from it than be mocked by millions of people across the world:
*The veteran editors on the copy desk loved to tell me of one of their greatest accomplishments: Nothing from our paper had ever appeared on Leno’s Headlines.