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39 Pieces Of Advice For Journalists And Writers Of Color

Established writers of color offer priceless advice for those just starting out.

For people of color, the writing industry can seem an especially challenging space, particularly for those just starting out. We spoke with 20 established writers of color – cultural writers, investigative reporters, broadcast journalists, and freelancers – and asked them three questions about the advice that they’d give beginning writers:

• What piece of advice would you, as a writer of color, give to burgeoning writers/journalists of color?
• What do you know now about being a writer of color that you wish you’d known when you first started?
• Is there anything you did as a writer starting out that you now regret?

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

1. “Don’t stress out about ingratiating yourself with The Media Scene.”


Read a lot of what interests you, and don’t feel bad if what interests you isn’t the cover of the New York Times every morning. Obviously you should keep up with world events, but don’t think that being able to speak at length about every A1 Times story is necessarily important. Write more than you read. Do things/go places that make you feel scared. Don’t be afraid to be passionate and earnest; detached irony is dead. Treat interns and HR people and everyone else in your office with the same level of respect you give to your direct colleagues and boss. Be as kind as your constitution will allow to everyone both in and outside of your office. Get into the habit of talking to people and asking them questions about their life, and don’t do the thing where you zone out of conversations until it’s your turn to speak — actually listening to people and the world around you is like 35 percent of being a good writer. Don’t surround yourself only with other writers/journalists/media people; self-imposed insularity is the fastest way to smother your creativity. And don’t stress out about ingratiating yourself with The Media Scene. A lot of the parties suck.

Cord Jefferson, writer

2. “Don’t feel like you have to do the ‘racism beat.’”


Be tenacious. This applies to everyone, but especially to young journalists of color: Make yourself indispensable. Dispel any rumors, however quiet, that you are just there for a “quota.” When you grow bolder: Challenge the status quo. Nearly every major newsroom is overwhelmingly white and male: Do something about it. Refer your capable friends to positions. Push that job openings be made public. Leave the door open for others like you. Don’t feel like you have to do the “racism beat”; advocate for stories about race and privilege, but don’t feel obligated to write them — journalism should teach both the writer and the reader. Write what’s important to you. You’re not the grand poobah of all things Asian/Latino/black/mixed-race. Your colleagues are journalists; they need to know how to figure it out themselves. There are communities out there for you — you just have to find them, and it takes a little work. Never hesitate to reach out to someone, over any medium, for advice or, sadly, commiseration. Don’t collude, collaborate: Your voices are important, and together they are stronger and louder. Start projects that get your words out there. Surround yourself with people who get it.

—Anonymous, editor at news website

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

3. “Meeting other women writers of color, especially so in the last year, has given me so much momentum.”


Imparting advice is tricky — while I am always excited to and interested in speaking with women of color about how identity intersects with their own writing, I’m still very much in an incubation period. I am a slow writer, (it’s looking more and more like I read more than I write), I don’t take as many chances as I’d like to take, and sometimes I feel too susceptible to too many opinions or hashtag-type waves of precipitous discussions. What I will say and what I’ve always said is, it’s vital to meet other women writers — women of color writers especially — and to surround yourself by them. The year that followed college I was still living in that residual space where I seemed prone to writers named Jonathan (yikes!) and where I thought being smart (whatever that means) was the ultimate pursuit. I was not writing for myself. I have since learned to write for the three or four people (mostly women) who I admire most on this planet, who I know hear and love hearing my take on things. A litmus test of who those people are would be to check your inbox. Who do you write your best emails to?

After college, I was surrounded by too many white male writers and journalists. They were everywhere! I even wrote a dopey fan letter to, of all people, Jonathan Franzen, seeking advice. He wrote back, months later, and recommended I read Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and added the following: “My first piece of advice, perhaps already unnecessary, is to seek out a reader or two whom you can trust to be maximally and lovingly hard on what you write.” The words “lovingly hard on what you write” were not, for me at least, the right advice, though I guess it was cool that he wrote back. Thing is, I was already hard on myself. As a woman of color, aren’t we all already so hard on ourselves? Either trying from a young age to fit in, or be the best, or be invisible? What I needed was to trust myself more, trust my voice, let it run a bit before it could walk, and believe that my own way of seeing things and making connections were valid. It’s funny to write now, but even a year ago, I felt like my words were illegitimate. Meeting other women writers of color, especially so in the last year, has given me so much momentum. The ways in which a simple, knowing nod can encourage me back to my computer are breathtaking. I now write not just as a reader but as someone who trusts that my lived experience can offer more to the conversation. Sometimes I just remind myself to feel valid and to know that I can only approach the macro through my own micro experience.

Durga Chew-Bose, writer

4. “Reputation matters more than anything.”


Show, don’t tell. That is how you earn respect and get plucked for the best jobs — with bylines and pieces that can’t be ignored. And reputation matters more than anything; maintain credibility at all costs. Trust your gut, and be yourself. Don’t sacrifice who you are for where you want to go.

Jenna Wortham, reporter, New York Times

5. “DO NOT LET THESE RICH PEOPLE GET YOU DOWN.”


Establish a solid foundation right away. The world is rife with stories of freelance writers making over $100K, but that is hallowed ground and not the norm, particularly when you’re just starting out. DO NOT LET THESE RICH PEOPLE GET YOU DOWN. I’ve been writing for a while but only freelancing for a few months, and the only way I’m able to do this job at all is by lining up regularly paid gigs, like TV recaps. I have writer friends who do technical writing, editing, and copywriting just to ensure they can pay their bills every month. You’re not going to wake up and be Joan Didion —there’s no shame in getting a solid gig that gives you room to write for other publications while you expand your resumé.

Danielle Henderson, writer

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed. Photo by Danielle Scruggs/Mambu Badu.

6. “Talent is a fluke.”


I’m still in the early stages of my career, so I’m not sure how much advice I should be doling out. But the thing I’ve learned and would like to impress upon others: Talent is a fluke. Yes, you’ve been told for a long time now that you’re such a natural talent, that you’re a writer with enormous potential, and yadda yadda yadda. That don’t mean shit. Talent may score you a few opportunities here and there, but this journalism/writing world is about hustle. It’s about networking. It’s about being seen. I don’t say that to suggest you shouldn’t worry about the craft. Don’t produce bullshit. There’s enough of that. But the reason people who produce bullshit keep getting opportunities to produce bullshit is because they’ve mastered the other parts of the game. They get up every day and pitch and write and tweet and make nice with all the right people. You have to figure out for yourself how much of that you’re willing to do. If it compromises your core beliefs, you shouldn’t. But understand what position that puts you in. You’ll have to be that much better at what you do without the same resources as other people. But, if you can manage to sleep at night knowing you’ve sold a bit of your soul, name your price, and hand it over to the devil with the best offer.

Mychal Denzel Smith, Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute; contributing writer, The Nation magazine

7. “Find people who are going to tell you the truth about their experience in the industry.”


a. Find people who are going to tell you the truth about their experience in the industry. If you’re a journalist, you’ve got good instincts, so you’ll know the truth when you hear it. What you decide to do with that information is completely up to you, of course. Some people would say find a mentor, and I think that is totally valuable. When I left newspapers and was working in Comms at UT, a woman I considered a mentor referred to having a board of directors. I think that’s a useful phrase to keep in mind. Those people do not necessarily have to be other people of color.

b. Learn as much as you can about the history and context of the organization that you’re writing for and where the people of color who worked for that organization in the past have ended up. You want to have a sense of whether there is a ceiling for your career trajectory, and if you can, talk to those people about their experiences.

c. Decide as early as you can what you want your legacy to be in journalism. It will help shape the assignments you take (when you get in a position to pick and choose which stories you will devote your time to) and it will help you avoid burnout, which leads to a significant amount of attrition in the business.

Joshunda Sanders, Speechwriter

8. “Creating an insane, borderline psychotic world in your head where you’re competing with every single person on the internet…”


Nothing much, except creating an insane, borderline psychotic world in your head where you’re competing with every single person on the internet, often — in your head — calling people you know and love, and care about names as if writing was a game of pickup basketball, a world in which if you don’t work harder than every single person, you will never succeed because you don’t deserve to succeed. Just that.

Rembert Browne, writer, Grantland

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

9. “I know that there are tantalizing examples of 22-year-old journalism phenoms getting a prime gig at [insert huge, prestigious publication].”


Learn the fundamentals of your craft and understand that it’s fine to spend a few years doing that before you get your dream job. I know that there are tantalizing examples of 22-year-old journalism phenoms getting a prime gig at [insert huge, prestigious publication] fresh out of undergrad or spearheading a fancy new vertical at [insert huge, highly trafficked website]. That is the exception, not the rule. Being an anonymous assistant or a reporter at a small paper or website is not as exciting as being the most famous 22-year-old writer or editor on the internet. But putting in the unglamorous work will lay the foundation for your career. Never underestimate the value of working for bosses or editors who have been doing this for a long time and can help you to grow as a writer and reporter. Don’t be in such a rush that you miss out on learning how to be better than everyone else at what you do. And that’s what you have to be to make it to the top of a masthead.

Lauren Williams, Lead Editor, Vox

10. “You can’t pay rent with ‘exposure’ or buy pasta with ‘good experience.’”


Staff jobs are rare, so if someone offers you one, grab it and don’t let go. On the other hand, freelancing (as I do) is not so bad. I have no dependents and live a life largely free of big expenses — printer ink cartridges and an always-full bread bin are not wildly expensive — so it suits. For now. Sometimes I imagine being a freelance writer with a child and I get so worried about feeding my currently non-existent baby I have to lie down on my fainting couch. In terms of ever buying my own home here in my hometown of London? Like Dr. Mindy Lahiri, I am hoping to marry rich.
Work-wise I would urge newbies to get their practice in. It’s a cliche but you get better by doing; it’s a muscle, so keep it supple.

Try things on and see where you fit most naturally. I knew very early on that news journalism was not for me, but I still passed my NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists] and learned 100wpm shorthand — now-unfashionable skills that I wouldn’t trade for anything, if only because they could mean the difference between my pitching a piece or taking a particular commission. In the words of the fictional stripper on Chris Rock’s Never Scared: Diversify your portfolio. It’s great to know what you’re great at, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Working for free is a personal issue to an extent, and people’s inability to pay you sometimes is not always down to corporate avarice. But I would always ask to be paid. Always. You can’t pay rent with “exposure” or buy pasta with “good experience.”

Bim Adewunmi, freelancer

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

11. “Reach out to a wide range of people who can serve as mentors.”


At some point, you and your work will encounter racism, sexism, or some other societal flaws. No matter how hurtful the moment is, don’t let it sour your outlook or your career. Also, reach out to a wide range of people who can serve as mentors. Seek out at least two who are completely different from your norm, in style, persona, race, age, sex, political leaning, and cultural taste. This team of people will be crucial to your development as a reporter and your progress as a human being.

Corey Johnson, government reporter, The Center for Investigative Reporting

12. “It’s uncomfortable to advocate for diversity. It’s uncomfortable to tell white people that they need to broaden their networks.”


A lot of the programs designed to promote newsroom diversity get us in the door but don’t know what to do with us once we are there. And so for those of us who have stuck around for a decade or more, newsroom to newsroom, one rung up at a time, it starts to get lonelier and lonelier. The folks we came in with leave the industry, switch to PR, maybe stay home to raise children. It’s really incumbent upon us to turn back around and lift up others, to spend the time on their copy and skills and futures, as surely someone once did with us.

It’s uncomfortable to advocate for diversity. It’s uncomfortable to tell white people that they need to broaden their networks, that they need to make sure they get out of their comfort zones, that we have no economic future if our newsroom does not look like the world it purports to serve. It’s uncomfortable to follow our own advice. I became a member of the National Association of Black Journalists last year for this very reason; I also wanted to be on the list-servs and see which students were winning scholarships and seeking internships. Our careers and the game is long. I’m in it for the haul.

Someone once told me that you can hire for diversity in stealth mode or wear it on your sleeve. I have chosen the latter. It’s possible to do so without compromising quality, but it definitely means assessing how we measure success, how we define culture, and who we include. It means making sure there isn’t just pizza and beer at staff parties, that we empower others to matter, be a part of our “mainstream,” sit at the table.

Being the only ANYTHING at the table can be lonely. But take heart. You’re there. You made it. Now get others to join you.

S. Mitra Kalita, Ideas Editor, Quartz

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

13. “Join journalism organizations.”


Networking is key. Get comfortable with it early. Grab your fellow young journalists and pool your resources to get to as many journalism conferences as you can — especially the smaller ones where more intimate crowds improve your odds of making meaningful connections.

Join journalism organizations. It’s cheaper to do this as a student and sometimes even as a young professional. The contacts are worth it, and the affiliation can sometimes give you an instant icebreaker. And you NEED the camaraderie that comes with shared experiences. Having folks with whom to celebrate your success and who will encourage you early in your career is invaluable to a young person trying to build the resume and self-confidence to make it in this industry.

Errin Haines Whack, Vice President-Print, NABJ

14. “It can feel like you’re in it alone.”


When I first took my current job one of my closest friends and mentors, who had talked me through much of my decision process to move to D.C., said something to me that I still think about often. “Do you!” he stressed. “They hired you for what you’ve already proven you can do, so don’t kill yourself thinking you need to be or be like someone else.” As journalists of color, it can be easy to think we have to be above and beyond or that we are examined and judged under a microscope that is more intense and searching than our colleagues. Because, in so many newsrooms, there are so relatively few of us those pressures become compounded and internalized because it can feel like you’re in it alone.

Wesley J. Lowery, reporter, Washington Post

15. “I would advise a young journalist of color to remember that, whether real or not, they have to work harder than their counterparts.”


I would advise a young journalist of color to remember that, whether real or not, they have to work harder than their counterparts. They also bear the responsibility of not just being another person of color in the newsroom, but to truly contribute in a way that gives the rest of their co-workers their perspective as a journalist who is black, Latino, Asian, or whatever.

—Anonymous, broadcast journalist

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

16. “Don’t let yourself become their ‘token.’”


I’d wish I’d known there are people out there who are looking out for you — and that can simply be BECAUSE of your race. It’s a double-edged sword: They, a person with more power/privilege than you, will try to rectify racial/gender inequalities by pushing for you…but don’t let yourself become their “token.” Prove your worth yourself.

—Anonymous, editor at news website

17. “I wish I had known how to negotiate a salary.”


I wish I had known how to negotiate a salary. Talk to industry friends, mentors, and co-workers and make sure you understand what the going rate is for any job or freelance gig, and then advocate for yourself. Negotiating a competitive salary at the beginning of your career pays dividends as you move from job to job, particularly if you get a promotion at the same publication.

Lauren Williams, Lead Editor, Vox

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

18. “It is possible to write for two or more communities at once.”


It is possible to write for two or more communities at once. Use your insider-outsider status as an asset, as a way to write for all of the audiences that develop around journalism today.

I wish I knew that the feeling of not knowing enough, of not mastering a subject really never goes away. I wish I knew that people pay more attention to HOW you deliver something than to WHAT you are actually saying. Are you confident? Are you decisive? Do you exude expertise? Did you do some reporting? Or does it sound like B.S.?

S. Mitra Kalita, Ideas Editor, Quartz

19. “I wish I’d known to not assume that people were smarter or better at their jobs than me just because they were richer or older or more experienced.”


I wish I’d known to not assume that people were smarter or better at their jobs than me just because they were richer or older or more experienced. Experience is a virtue, but only to an extent.

Cord Jefferson, writer

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed. Photo by Vaschelle Andre, Divine Photography.

20. “It was not my responsibility to correct an entire system.”


a. I wish I had known when I started out that it was not my responsibility to correct an entire system that was not perhaps purposefully meant to alienate me in the singular so that I could have saved my energy for strategically fighting battles to get stories in the paper that were reflective of my abilities and talents without such a struggle. (My white male mentors gave me books like Edna Buchanan’s The Corpse Had a Familiar Face and The Elements of Style, but a book I wish I had read was Pamela Newkirk’s Within the Veil or News for All the People).

b. There is life after journalism. It is a noble profession, but the nobility in it is stacked against people of color because we are presumed to be advocates instead of having the (bogus) objectivity of our white counterparts. I think this is at the heart of the struggle young journalists have because they feel like they are the voice of their communities and that voice is silenced daily and continually, particularly now that we have few overt gestures of race and racism that we can point to — in an era of microaggressions, it is maddening to internalize the pressure to produce stories that, largely, white male editors consider interesting, but you know and see in the trenches may not be the story. As is the case for women, oftentimes editors will not listen to a pitch unless it comes from another white man. For me, a decade was more than enough time to see that the ball wouldn’t move much for me professionally. If you want longevity in the profession, look at how the folks who have been in the business for a long time operate and take note of whether or not you want to eventually follow suit.

Joshunda Sanders, Speechwriter

21. “Don’t assume that people of your own race or color are like-minded.”


Don’t assume that people of your own race or color are like-minded. That’s the point of diversity, that a Puerto Rican who grew up in public housing offers a different experience than, say, an affluent Argentine or a black person from the South. Also, don’t be surprised if some of those same journalists of color do not fully support you.

—Anonymous, broadcast journalist

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed. Photo by Seth Hurley

22. “At least 80% of my ability to get work consistently is due to the fact that I don’t miss deadlines.”


People will often try to pigeonhole you as a minority writer and confine you to minority issues. That’s fine if that’s your jam, but don’t feel like you have to perform to those standards.

Make sure your pitches are succinct. Your pitch should not be your 3,500-word story — no one has time to read that, and honestly? They won’t. It could be a treasure map to the lost city of gold and no one would read it! Work on getting your pitches down to a solid 200-300 words, and include as much information as you can upfront — your idea or thesis, how long will it take to research, questions you have going in, why you think it would be a good fit for this publication, etc. Help your editor by doing some of the work ahead of time; the more clear your pitch, the more likely you are to get an enthusiastic yes.

Also, and I knew this going in but it’s just terribly good advice: Don’t miss deadlines. It wreaks unspeakable havoc on editors and publishers to get work in late, it’s a shitty habit to get into, and most editors will remember you as the pain in the ass late person when it comes time to assigning work again. Editors talk to one another, and they move to other publications, often recommending or bringing writers with them. At least 80% of my ability to get work consistently is due to the fact that I don’t miss deadlines. I am also hilarious, beautiful, intelligent, charming, and incredibly humble, but editors tend to forget that when you’re filing a story three days late.

Danielle Henderson, writer

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

23. “I wish someone had told me to keep my eyes on my own career, not greedily stare at others’ and get bogged down in feeling like an underachiever.”


I wish someone had told me to keep my eyes on my own career, not greedily stare at others’ and get bogged down in feeling like an underachiever. Also, now that I’m an editor, I wish I had known how busy editors often are, and that their late responses don’t necessarily reflect badly on your pitch or your idea. I know now that it is often a numbers game when it comes to ideas and pitching. So pitch every good idea you have. And keep pitching. Never stop pitching.

Bim Adewunmi, freelancer

24. “Don’t dismiss yourself before others do.”


That everything is possible. Go for all of it. Let them tell you no. Don’t dismiss yourself before others do. And recognize opportunities for what they are — and know that doesn’t always mean the job with the most prestige or biggest paycheck. Make a plan, but be prepared to adjust it.

Errin Haines Whack, Vice President-Print, NABJ

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

25. “I was stuck at a place, breaking my neck trying to bring about change before I realized that management and I didn’t have the same values.”


This is more applicable to mid-career journos, but it’s super important for us to screen our employers — management, specifically — the same way they would screen potential hires. Do you agree with their vision and direction for the publication? Do you think they can execute that vision? Can they/do they articulate that vision consistently to staff? Is everyone on the same page here?

I was stuck at a place, breaking my neck trying to bring about change before I realized that management and I didn’t have the same values. And that’s fine, but because of that, we were never going to agree on what was “good” and what wasn’t. I imagine I could have saved a lot of time and stress had I understood that earlier.

Akoto Ofori-Atta, 2015 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow, Stanford University

26. “I spent a long time trying to blend into my surroundings, trying to go unnoticed.”


I started my career at big, mainstream magazines and I spent a long time trying to blend into my surroundings, trying to go unnoticed while I got my bearings and figured out how to navigate environments where people like me are either invisible or non-existent. It took me a while to realize that all the things that made me stand out were distinct advantages that helped me in the long run. For example — I am often the only person of color (and definitely the only woman of color!) at big tech events and conferences and it makes me highly recognizable and memorable, which used to make me feel embarrassed and conspicuous, but over the years, it has only helped me build sources simply because almost everyone in my business knows who I am. And my background helped me spot stories that many of my colleagues either missed or weren’t privy to, which helped me carve out a reputation among editors for coming up with stories beyond the traditional narratives that mainstream publications trade in.

Jenna Wortham, reporter, New York Times

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

27. “The fact is that it was the mid-90s and most of the people at that magazine — especially management — seemed very pleased with themselves and in no mood to hear my or others’ analyses of the racial politics of the entertainment (or the media!) industry.”


I started out in print media in 1995, after graduating from New York University with a degree in journalism. (For more of my thoughts on that, click here.) It’s interesting, looking back on the beginnings of my career. My first job, as an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly magazine, was a rewarding one — assistants were encouraged to pitch and write and report short items for the front of the book, and some even got features placed in the magazine — but the workplace was also a very white and very male one, which meant that there was a certain default, what Rebecca Traister, in her great New Republic piece from last week described as “calibrated to dude,” that I had to learn to understand, and then, internalize and adhere to. It’s easy for me to say that I wish I’d recognized that part of what made me valuable to the magazine was the fact that I was neither white nor male, and that I wish I had drawn upon my experiences and interests as a woman of color during the course of my time there. But I don’t think any of that would have done much good: The fact is that it was the mid-’90s and most of the people at that magazine — especially management — seemed very pleased with themselves and in no mood to hear my or others’ analyses of the racial politics of the entertainment (or the media!) industry.

Anyway, that was then and this is now, and things have changed, and for the better. When I was a rookie, there was less room, literal and figurative, in which writers of color could assert themselves: There were fewer outlets in which their bylines could appear, and less of an understanding among editors that cultivating diversity in a newsroom or on a masthead was in their publication’s best interest. That said, young writers of color should be careful not to make their experiences as people of color the sole focus of their work; they need to diversify, because as thrilled as I am by the increasing visibility of talented minority journalists, I worry that some may find themselves pigeonholed by lazy media gatekeepers who only look to them to weigh in on issues of race and ethnicity. I’m seeing this happen in some instances already.

I want to get a to a point where, say, an African-American writer of cultural criticism feels as free to weigh in on the oeuvre of Tolstoy or Bronte sisters as she does the discography of Janelle Monae. I want to see a black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or Native American man or woman take the reins of a magazine like The New Yorker or Vanity Fair or Elle and explode our ideas of what an editor-in-chief can, and should, look like. It’s happened before — look at Mark Whitaker’s tenure at Newsweek — and will happen again. In the meantime, up-and-comers should remember to work hard, dream big, and be patient: Change doesn’t happen overnight. But it IS happening, and a lot of us have your backs.

Anna Holmes, Editor, Fusion; Columnist, New York Times Sunday Book Review; Founder, Jezebel.

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed / Via nytimes.com

28. “I was really showy and I overwrote everything.”


When I was a young writer, I was really showy and I overwrote everything. I spent a lot of time trying to prove what a great writer I was instead of just producing good writing. And as an editor, I recognize this tendency in many of the young writers I work with.

Lauren Williams, Lead Editor, Vox

29. “A rejected pitch is only that: a rejected pitch.”


The thing I regret most when I started out as a writer: not writing! Be unafraid. A rejected pitch is only that: a rejected pitch. Not the end of the world.

—Anonymous, editor at news website

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

30. “I regret ever believing that being ironic and counterintuitive were acceptable substitutes for having real thoughts.”


I regret ever believing that being ironic and counterintuitive were acceptable substitutes for having real thoughts. I also regret the serious problem I had with mimicry when I first started out. I’d write my versions of David Sedaris stories or Gawker posts and then wonder why so many of my pieces were being rejected. Of course, they were being rejected because they were transparent ripoffs, and I needed time to become my own writer (which is an ongoing process). To get hired at Gawker, I first had to stop trying to write like I belonged at Gawker.

Cord Jefferson, writer

31. “Don’t burn bridges.”


The journalism world is tiny and it’s getting smaller. Don’t burn bridges, especially if you ever want to freelance. We all know each other, I promise.

Joshunda Sanders, Speechwriter

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

32. “I regret wasting time thinking I wasn’t good enough.”


I regret being scared. I regret wasting time thinking I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t deserve a seat at the table. You do belong and your voice is worthy. Say it to yourself in the mirror every morning if you have to, but don’t ever forget it.

Jenna Wortham, reporter, New York Times

33. “I wish, also, that I hadn’t been so naive about the challenges of being a minority in New York media.”


I wish I had been more proactive about seeking out people who share my background as mentors in the workplace when that was possible — after I switched jobs, I was no longer exposed to minority women who cover the industry I write about with the same kind of experience. And I think it’s important, when talking about certain struggles in the workplace, particularly issues with management, that you have that kind of perspective. I wish, also, that I hadn’t been so naive about the challenges of being a minority in New York media — I think that I didn’t want to believe that I could be treated differently based on my race. Unfortunately, the shape that takes a lot of the time is difficulty connecting with your manager. For example, I’ve worked with multiple white men who simply have an easier time relating to co-workers who have had a similar upbringing to them, similar cultural experiences. Often, this leads to a better working environment for those people — more opportunities, sometimes more leniency, more positive reviews. If you’re having any issues with a manager, they will be greatly compounded by the fact that they can’t relate to you on the same level. And even if you’re not, you feel like you’re just not on equal footing, in a way that is simply unchangeable. And that’s tough.

—Anonymous, reporter

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

34. “I learned late the art of diplomacy and administration.”


I learned late the art of diplomacy and administration. As a champion of change, I started as a bull in the china shop. Change is difficult for many people. I have been more successful by championing progressive change. If you want to lead, be a champion of change in whatever role you are in as a journalist; it is best to practice humility and not fall victim to pride and arrogance.

Hugo Balta, president of National Association of Hispanic Journalists; coordinating producer, ESPN

35. “It’s tough to get to every story.”


I have very few regrets. One thing I learned early on, though, that is not specific to journalists of color but one we’re more responsible for: when I covered cops in New York, high-crime areas have a lot of victims, and it’s tough to get to every story. There was one time when a 19-year-old man was fatally shot in Harlem. I didn’t sound the alarm, and it turned out to be a college student and a good story that we fell behind on. I learned from that mistake.

—Anonymous, broadcast journalist

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

36. “Allowing those fears or those pressures to either mute me or to prevent me from doing the journalism that is important to me. “


If there is anything I regret it’s at times allowing those fears or those pressures to either mute me or to prevent me from doing the journalism that is important to me. As I’ve worked in the field longer, I’ve found real community in relationships with so many other journalists of color – who check in on me, have my back in the battles against the Twitter trolls, laugh and sing with me at karaoke nights, and can offer an understanding ear when I just need to vent. I’d tell any young journalist of color to actively seek and nurture those relationships.

Wesley J. Lowery, reporter, Washington Post

37. “There are a few commissions I wish I hadn’t done but everyone has those!”


Nothing major, no. I was fortunate to be from London (which is the hub of the media industry in the U.K.) so I did internships with little to no remuneration while under my parents’ roof — a luxury many aspiring journalists don’t get. There are a few commissions I wish I hadn’t done but everyone has those!

Bim Adewunmi, freelancer

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed / Photo by Dustin Chambers

38. “Putting all of my best thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.”


Yeah. Putting all of my best thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. It’s really easy to get caught in the trap (still happens to me from time to time), but I truly think Twitter is where personalities go to live and writers go to die. Obviously, Twitter’s important for your #personalbrand, but early on I think I was spending a lot of time trying to be profound on Twitter and Facebook, instead of taking the time to actually tease out ideas on my blog, because there were more eyes on my Facebook or Twitter than my blog. So it took some time to convince myself to take the less fun, less sexy, less attention-seeking route, in the name of becoming a better writer.

The end result of this has been Twitter and Facebook becoming places to simply take breaks from work, talk semi-unfiltered nonsense, and converse with my real-life friends, and then close the tab, and go back to work. Which is nice.

Rembert Browne, writer, Grantland

39. “Malcolm Gladwell could write 400 words on a piece of toilet paper and get paid more than I earn in a year.”


I regret that I didn’t negotiate, that I accepted the first offer most of the time. As someone who grew up poor and eloquently shifted into broke as an adult, I felt like “Hey, I’m lucky enough to get paid to do this amazing job, so whatever they offer is perfect!” NO. You’re never going to reach the realm of $100K with that attitude. I greatly undervalued myself when I was starting out. NEGOTIATE. A key part of negotiating is talking to other writers — if you know other writers personally don’t be afraid to ask what they got paid for that one article, or how much specific publishers pay in general. If you don’t know any other writers, you should contact the editor you want to pitch to and ask for their rates. This information will always change based on the person or assignment, so try to talk to people doing similar work; Malcolm Gladwell could write 400 words on a piece of toilet paper and get paid more than I earn in a year, so don’t ask him to be your baseline, you know? Unless he’s your uncle or something, I don’t know your life. I regularly reach out to other writers when I’m pitching a new publication they’ve worked for, and it helps me know what to expect when I’m negotiating.

Danielle Henderson, writer

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