Sometimes Getting It Very Wrong Can Turn Out Alright

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A Summer Internship Story

Our new summer intern is about to start his work here at the agency, and it got me thinking about some of my internships and the experiences I had while developing my skills as a budding communicator.

While a University of Wyoming junior majoring in journalism, I was excited to be hired as a summer reporter intern by the weekly Green River (Wyoming) Star. Green River is on the other end of the state from where I lived in Laramie, so I was intrigued not just by the job, but also by the opportunity to live in a different environment.

I learned a lot while at the newspaper, but my memory of writing a feature on the Mormon Mission Training Center (MTC) is the recollection most seared into my brain from that hot, dusty summer in Wyoming’s southwest corner. A number of local, young Mormon men were headed off to training before starting their missions. They were excited, and the small community was excited for them.

I interviewed the boys one-after-one on the telephone. They all spoke passionately about their upcoming experience at the “MTC”, but I didn’t know the term MTC; what I heard was “Empty Sea.” I figured, without asking anyone at the newspaper, that the Empty Sea was religious thing that everyone but I knew about.

I wrote my feature about the boys and their thoughts on the Empty Sea, how they were a bit nervous about the Empty Sea having heard from other missionaries that expectations at the Empty Sea were high, etc. So, my story went on, and on, about the importance of the training at the Empty Sea.

I was thrilled when my article ran on the front page! I knew all the missionaries and their families would be pleased too. Of course, moments after the paper started hitting Green River porches the newspaper’s office phone started ringing. By mid-morning it was clear that pretty much every Mormon family in the Green River Valley was going to politely, but clearly, explain that “it’s the MTC, not the Empty Sea.”

My editor made me personally handle each call, explain my error and apologize for it. I also had the honor of writing my own correction for the following week’s issue.

I’ve wondered over the years if the editor noticed my error while reviewing the newspaper’s copy and decided to let it run so I’d learn an important lesson. I’ll never know. My suspicion is that he did. My byline clearly stated I was the summer intern. Maybe he felt like that was enough warning that my story was to be read with a grain of salt.

Intentional or not, it was an important lesson for me. I learned the importance of owning my mistakes. I also learned the benefit of meeting face-to-face when possible. (I’m pretty sure if I had met my interviewees face-to-face, I would have asked them about this mysterious Empty Sea.) Finally, I learned that even big, embarrassing mistakes do eventually pass, and when you survive them, you usually get a good story out of the whole deal.