And, since they had been focusing on copy editing in recent classes...
"To make sure there are no typos."
Through each answer he drew a line.
"Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong," he said.
They shouted a few more guesses. He shot those down, too. Finally, when their guesses were exhausted, he gave his answer.
"It's simple. It says it right here on the front page." He then picked up the newspaper, and pointed to a small word under the masthead. It said simply, "Daily."
They were completely confused. Exactly the plan.
"Daily. It means you promise this paper will be there every morning at 6 a.m. when people wake up. Daily. That's the biggest and first promise you make to readers. That's the one thing you can't compromise. And if any of these other things get in the way of that," he said, and pointed to their rejected answers, "they have to go."
Anticipating their next question, he continued.
"And yes, that means some nights -- in fact, many nights -- you will knowingly send the paper out the door with mistakes. You want to minimize them. You want them to be small mistakes. But there will come a time -- many times -- when you will have to pick between "daily" and "perfect," and every time, you must pick "daily."
As he expected, the students now thought that Bob was the new Richard Nixon, and they were going to expose "Mistake-gate." These bright young 20-year-olds spent most of their time in the journalism program learning about First Amendment law, Marshall McLuhan, and hidden biases in journalism, and how they were going to change it all.
He was giving them a much more "earthy" lesson. They didn't like it.
"Look, it doesn't say, 'Daily, except when we have to go back and re-edit a few stories,' or 'Daily, except when our basketball writer thinks he has a good scoop so we waited and waited and now, sorry, there's no paper.' It says daily."
Then, he made his final point. "And so, your job as a journalist is this: You are not supposed to put out the best paper you can put out. You are supposed to put out the best paper you can in the time you have. There's a big difference."
The argument continued for the rest of the class period. He didn't convince a single student, but before the semester was over, not one had failed to see his point. They had learned it all first hand.
These bright kids were part of a special program that took them from this editing class right to a copy-editing job at the Missourian newspaper, a for-profit rag owned by the school. Very soon, they would be on the front lines of daily paper, jamming to send the cameraready pages to the printer by midnight, and they were in for a shock.
No matter how well you have paid attention, no matter how agile you remain, as midnight approaches it is still shockingly difficult to keep on applying your judgment in real time.
Perhaps the most insidious of all human imperfections often lies hidden in the weeds most of our lives. But it rears its ugly head and screeches for our attention in an environment of intense deadlines. It kills all learning, and dooms us to a life of plateaus: the desire to be perfect.
Can one negative comment from your boss or mother-in-law throw you into a tailspin?
Do typos in e-mails, or sloppy grammar in speech, bother you so much that you can't even see or hear the meaning of the words being used? Do the words "good enough," make you cringe?
Then you're are likely engaging in a form of self-torture that many psychologists now recognize as a modern-day epidemic – part obsessive-compulsive disorder, part overbearing superego, part digital-age narcissistic nightmare, and nearly always on the edge of miserable.