Viewpoint: Expectations of perfection


    By Tiffany Lewis

    Perfection. As members of the church, it”s one of our favorite words. At BYU, it borders on obsession.

    If you”re a girl, you”re expected to be blond, tanned, 5-foot-8 and 110 pounds. You should have a 3.8 GPA and a desire to do great things, with the expectation that you”ll drop it all to be a wife and mother.

    You should be sweet and tender, yet tough enough to play intramural flag football and enjoy the Cougars” winning streak. You should be Relief Society president by at least your sophomore year, and volunteer at the soup kitchen twice a week.

    If you”re a guy, you should be tall and fluent in at least one other language, preferably Japanese. You should be athletic and ambitious, with a sensitive side that loves “Anne of Green Gables” movies.

    You should have invested in the stock market years ago and already have the money set aside to buy your future wife a two-carat diamond ring. You should be able to sing in the Men”s Chorus and dance the waltz without being too feminine.

    Yes, meeting the expectations in this seemingly perfect society can be tough.

    And here at the newspaper, we understand how you feel. We”re supposed to be the student voice of BYU. Because we”re affiliated with the university and the church, we are expected to run like the church does — perfectly.

    Some of you believe we should be error-free, spotless as a linen napkin in the Skyroom. Some of you think that when we make any mistake, we”re shaming BYU and the church. This column is for you.

    I worked at National Geographic this summer. The name commands reverence because the product comes out practically flawless. It”s what they pride themselves on. But they have several months to do it and editors with 20 years experience under their belts.

    Meet the editors of The Daily Universe. We”re students just like you, with full classloads. Most of us haven”t been editing for more than a year. Our reporters are part of a class, and many never write a real news story before they step foot in the newsroom.

    We work on a daily deadline, starting fresh each day. This calls for a lot of last-minute decisions and breaking news stories.

    We”re a lab environment. Our lab just happens to get splashed across campus every day for you to examine.

    But that doesn”t mean we use it as an excuse. No one slacks on the job at the paper. We don”t get paid much, and going into it we know we”re going to work more than the allotted 20 hours each week.

    We do it because we love it, because we love to see you as readers pick up that paper each morning. We love knowing that if we weren”t here, you wouldn”t know what was going on.

    My husband and I both work at the paper. I spend four hours each night laying out pages, reading copy and writing headlines for the paper. I go home at night worrying that my pages aren”t as perfect as I would like. When NPR wakes us up each morning, he mumbles about not getting “that story” in the newspaper. We may border on obsession, but it”s because we value what we do.

    And yes, there are mistakes. I”ve misspelled headlines and slipped up on copy spelled wrong. But it isn”t because I don”t care, and it isn”t because I”m not trying.

    A few weeks ago The New York Times ran a 150th anniversary edition. Part of the section showed some of the paper”s greatest bloopers, and they were pretty big. Even the best of the best makes mistakes. It”s the nature of a daily deadline and the nature of a daily newspaper. Even Newsweek and Time run corrections almost weekly. Perhaps it”s just the nature of news.

    I made an interesting observation last year when I went to visit a friend at the University of Texas. While talking to her, I said, “Hey, do you know that your student newspaper wins the national award every year? It must be pretty good.”

    “What, our paper?” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Our paper stinks.”

    There”s something about a university environment that seems to open us up to criticism.

    But we hope you understand this. We hope you can chuckle at our mistakes and respect us as a paper. Because what you don”t see going on, what doesn”t come out on the racks every morning, is the process. What we do is about the process of shaping journalists. The product is important, but it”s from the process that we really learn.

    And that process only works when students get to learn by trial and error. You wouldn”t learn physics if your professors did all your experiments for you, and we wouldn”t learn journalism if the faculty ran the newspaper, fixing our grammatical mistakes and rewriting our headlines. We take pride in our work — and wake up wondering how we missed “that story” — because it”s ours.

    We learn through the process, and that”s why life is more than a day long. Why would we be here on Earth, learning over the span of years, if we were expected to be perfect right now?

    I will never be 5-foot-10, and I haven”t weighed 110 pounds since the fifth grade. I would love to volunteer at the soup kitchen, but I hardly have time to make soup for my husband.

    So let”s make a deal. I”ll turn my head to your imperfections, if you”ll be patient with ours.

    And we”ll both do our best to keep trying.

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