The power of ‘sorry’: How apologies saved my year

Heather Leith takes a look back at her year as editor-in-chief, and shares the one word that has defined and shaped her experience.


| Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES

Heather Leith, Writer

Many things have contributed to this year’s successful production of the Chimes. There were the ample flex points for late-night breakfast burritos from Eagle’s to fuel my editing. There was a staff that cared about me, supported me and brought me coffee while we were up until 3 a.m. on an all-too-regular basis. There was the wisdom of my parents as I struggled through the endless decisions required of a real-world boss. There was the newspaper editor’s bible, the AP Stylebook.

But above all, my year would have been distinctly different if not for the word “sorry.”

When you publish 30-plus stories per week with about three sources per story — that’s about 60 people with their names attached to an article every single week — chances are at least one of those people will find something wrong with what we wrote. Mistakes and miscommunication are inevitable, despite our hard work combing through every article, infographic and caption for accuracy.

When I would find little mess-ups after picking up the fresh print edition on a Thursday, my heart would sink. But if it directly affected a source, I walked right over to their office, acknowledged the mistake and apologized. I was shocked at how quickly they forgave me, and ultimately the Chimes. For the most part, people I interacted with this year were full of grace and quick to give me the benefit of the doubt. We misquoted the cost of an event? Spelled “eschelon” wrong in a front-page headline? Attributed an article to the wrong author? (These are real-life examples, unfortunately.) There’s a “sorry” for that, and it almost always strengthened my relationship with that person or department, even if it was not my fault.

Of course, there were the bigger journalistic mistakes as well. There were moments when I wondered how in the world we were going to recover from stepping on people’s toes, and stepping on them hard — intentionally or unintentionally. To be honest, I am not proud of every single thing we did this year. We covered a beloved faculty member’s passing with a lack of sensitivity — we had to be called out on it before we made the appropriate changes. We mentioned a change in a ResLife staff without consulting enough people involved, and it was interpreted as a “low blow.” I could go on. But there were poignant moments of “sorry” for these mistakes too. One word does not cover all damage done, but if there’s one thing I learned this year, owning up to mistakes changes people’s hearts — not to mention mine.

These apologetic moments were never dramatic or long-winded. I did not try to save face and make myself look better in their eyes by giving excuses for why we thought we were in the right. I could come up with a list of reasons for why we made the decision we did, but most often it was just, “I apologize, we should not have done that.” No defensiveness was needed, but humility was.

Saying sorry while trying to maintain a professional image certainly reminds you of who you truly are — a human. You are not your business card, Biolans. You are not a sum of your on-campus involvements. You are not what you produce. You are a human, and what you do will never be perfect. You will make lots of small mistakes and unfortunately some huge ones.

Do yourself and those around you a favor and start learning how to say the most powerful word in your relationship arsenal, “sorry.” Here at the Chimes, rest assured that, if I trained them right, they will continue to do the same.

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