Welcome to the Vitruvian Life, NR’s weekly advice column for young conservatives in the modern world. Send in your questions about living a balanced, virtuous life: mind, body, and soul. Include your name (anonymous or not), and town in an email to Vitruvian.Life@nationalreview.com. Questions might be lightly edited for publication, but they’ll never be made up.
* * *
I’m a sophomore at a Midwestern university — and I’m in a bad spot. How do I ask for an extension on a paper when I’m already past the due date? I got behind, busy, and disorganized, and I couldn’t get this done in time. My professor has previously told the class that he wouldn’t be interested in granting extensions, but I really need one this time.
James E., Ohio
Well, James, you are indeed in a pickle. The thing to remember with blown deadlines is that time is of the essence. I’ll keep this brief, so that you can execute.
First, and this is obvious but it bears saying: Don’t make blown deadlines a habit. If you have a track record of timely completion of tasks and assignments, you’re much more likely to be granted a reprieve on the rare occasion that you’re late. So make a commitment to be radically punctual in your work.
Second, if you realize that you’re going to miss a deadline, it’s always better to ask for an extension before the clock strikes midnight than after the fact.
If you’re already past the deadline, however, time is still a critical factor. Get in front of your professor or boss as soon as practicable to make your ask. If possible, do this in person, rather than in an email or via phone. You stand a much better chance of generating a human, sympathetic reaction in person than via the impersonal medium of email.
Third, when making your ask, it’s imperative that you take responsibility for the missed deadline. Be direct, succinct, and own it. Don’t spin a sob story or ratchet up the excuses even if a Black Swan event did somehow cause your delay. Bosses and professors are used to hearing excuses, excuses, excuses. If you show up and own your responsibility, you’ll make a distinct and positive impression.
Never ask for a vague, amorphous extension, and don’t give your boss or professor the new chore of looking at his calendar and personalizing it for you. You need to show up with a feasible, specific, concrete proposal for a new deadline that you’ve already thought through. It should be ambitious but realistic. This allows you to say, “Sir, based on my other classes and work commitments, I can turn in this paper by next Friday at noon. This is an ambitious but realistic deadline that I can and will meet.”
Your professor, armed with this information, will be impressed and may well consider granting your request. Before he does, though, he will likely still inquire about what caused the delay. Don’t take this as an opportunity to fall back into excuse-making. I recommend saying something to the effect of, “Sir, I want to be clear that I’m giving you this information as an explanation not an excuse,” and then give a brief summation of what happened.
This is the adult, mature way to handle blown deadlines in school, business, and life. Use it if you have to, but don’t make a habit out of it.
And finally, if you’re granted an extension, don’t blow past your new deadline!
* * *
The media is so biased these days. It’s hard to even watch TV news. All it seems to be is talking-heads shouting at each other. Other than reading NR, what should I put in my media diet? I especially feel like it’s hard to find real news about what’s going on in my home state.
Jeremy D., Lincoln, Neb.
I think it’s important to dispel the idea that there was once a halcyon golden era of “objective” news media in America that has somehow gone the way of the Whigs. There wasn’t. If anything, today’s fractious, bickering, partisan media environment is the historical American norm.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common for newspapers to put their partisan affiliation on the masthead: The Arizona Republic — the state’s largest newspaper — was the Arizona Republican until 1930. And the Chicago Democrat wasn’t exactly shy about its politics. There were dozens of other examples, none of which anyone found to be out of the ordinary. Moreover, journalists of that era didn’t see themselves as members of a semi-priestly caste of objective truth seekers. They were rambunctious, argumentative types, who wanted to mix it up and press their point of view.
The myth of the objective newsman arose in the middle of the 20th century. For a few short decades, most Americans got their news from the big three TV stations — CBS, NBC, and ABC — their hometown newspaper, and maybe a subscription to a national magazine such as Time or Life. The press in this era wasn’t nearly as objective and nonpartisan as they liked to think, but it was much harder to point out the hypocrisy and bias because, other than National Review after 1955, there weren’t a lot of alternative voices. Of course, the world has changed since then. The legacy press may not like how the ground has shifted in the last two decades, but it has all the same.
All that said, I give a fairly simple answer to almost everyone who asks me your question: You need a diversity of high-quality views — but not slop — in your media diet.
Don’t only read conservative outlets or you will undoubtedly find yourself in a bubble. On the other hand, there’s no reason to subject yourself to endless amounts of mainstream media — because it’s mostly hackery and a waste of time.
I always recommend avoiding Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media platforms for your news. If you get some entertainment value out of it, fine — just realize that the only “news” that breaks through on social media is the salacious, scandalous, emotive variety. It’s pure junk food. If you care about what your school board or department of public works is doing in your hometown, you’re not going to find that information on Twitter!
Unless it’s an election night or major world event that you want to watch in real time, there’s no need to watch TV news. Again, if you find some sort of gallows-humor entertainment from it, fine. But just realize that the TV networks are going to fill their programming hours whether there is real news . . . or not. Most of the time, of course, there’s not enough actual news to fill the time slots for a 24-hour cable news network. Yes, they’re going to fill the hours anyway, but that doesn’t mean you need to watch.
So what should you do? (Other than subscribing to NRPlus, of course!) I recommend reading your local paper. That’s the best way you’ll see coverage of your city and state house. Don’t expect the national outlets to cover your hometown unless there is some sort of major natural disaster or scandal. And we all know that local TV news prefers to focus on fluff and weather. You can subscribe to most local papers for about what you spend on your Netflix membership — especially if you receive the paper digitally. It’s worth doing, it’s important, and it’s what a citizen should do.
Finally, yes, I do recommend you check out the big national newspapers at least weekly, especially for their international coverage. Your local paper isn’t going to have a foreign correspondent on the frontlines in the Donbass or an expert reporter in New Delhi (though it might include Associated Press reports). That original international reporting is where the real value is.
And yes, if you’re a glutton for punishment, check out the New York Times opinion section.
Remember to submit your own question about living the Vitruvian Life to Vitruvian.Life@nationalreview.com. See you next week.