Dear Aspiring Journalist Me,
I wanted to write to you, because I’ve learned so much since I started out and I know you want to know what I know, because you’re me.
First, no one really calls anyone in the newsroom.
Yell. Text. Gchat. Facebook message. Email with your question in the subject line.
We don’t have time to talk to you on the phone, unless it’s urgent or you have a secret.
But you sure as hell better be near a phone when I need to call you.
Be respectful, but indignant in the times for which it is called. Be excited about your work, but understand that there are many exciting things in a newsroom each day.
Have a positive attitude — most of the time. It’s OK to be quiet and melancholic and distant. It adds dimension to your normal positivity. You’re a human.
Drink a little bit, but not too much — moderation in all things. Don’t smoke. What’s the point? That’s what whiskey is for — in moderation, like I said, you idiot.
Cuss, but only in proper context and for emphasis; no one likes a mindless cusser.
Check your email all the time or only once a day; we need to know if we can email you and you’ll get it ASAP — or if we need to call you.
Tell a coworker you were impressed with their work, but not all the time. Tell a coworker you were disappointed in their work, but rarely; they need to know when they need to work on something, from a colleague. (Managers are always telling them they need to work on something. The impact fades. They’re zoned out to them.)
There are times to stand up and there are times to sit down. There are times to yell and there are times to be quiet.
Mostly be quiet: it gives yelling more of an impact.
There are a lot of people who are burnt out and negative in your newsroom. Most journalists cover beats that are about the mind-boggling negativity of the human. On top of that, working in the newsroom sucks and managers don’t know what they’re doing, according to 90 percent of your coworkers.
Don’t talk too much to that group, but due give credence to their warnings — there is some truth in their bitching, but always exaggerated to fit their bitching. But, like a parasite, they will eat the go-getter out of you and make you one of them.
Be a go-getter and never stop. It’s good to push, but you’ll find that you can only rock the boat so much at a time, especially without the credence of being a seasoned journalist. “They” will try to beat it out of you; not intentionally — usually — but conformity is a lot easier to manage than creativity.
Some places want you to press harder than others, even as a newbie, but no matter how hard you work, and how many great ideas you have, you’re going to be viewed as young, inexperienced and your ideas will seem foreign to many, because they haven’t experienced the new tech world changes to the industry that you grew up in as a native.
If you’re talented and care about your work, a seasoned vet will see and take you under their wing.
People like to help people.
Fly under that wing and ask that wing every question you need to know and let that wing go to bat for you and defend you and thank that wing every chance you get.
Cry sometimes. It’s OK. But, my god, don’t be a baby.
Be careful about using overtime. People may like you, but the bottom line is money. Overtime costs money. Make sure it’s approved. The above your aboves usually aren’t journalists and are bleh about a Big J.
They’re in business and they notice money more than anyone in the newsroom — and they are your boss’ boss. I don’t need to tell you why you don’t want to draw the ire of your bosses boss.
Put off your vacation days as long as possible, but take them when you get burnt out. There is no greater medicine for the deafening stress of news than time away from what you love. Surely you know that distance makes the heart grow fonder already. You’ll want to be back in the rush when you’re gone long enough. Trust me.
Laugh. Show emotion. Don’t be a drone.
Get on Twitter and learn why it’s good. Many established journalists will be passive if you ask them about Twitter. Many won’t even have an account or know how it work. Because of this, you can make a name for yourself with the amazing powers of the Twitter machine.
And by the way, your managers know what Twitter is, but they don’t have time to care about it or what you’re doing on it… until you F up. And you’re going to F up on Twitter… just don’t make it a huge F up. Twitter is great, but it’s going to change a lot — every day, sometimes.
And new forms of communication are coming, too. It’s journalism; communicating info in better and better ways is our purpose. Learn the good ones as you did when you were a teen or in college. Be a go-to person for them.
Stand up for yourself when questioned. Sit down when you and everyone knows you’re wrong.
Think about your future constantly, but be committed to your work and the people you work with. There are times to stay and there are times to go.
Some people will throw you under the bus as soon as they see you as a threat. Be prepared at all times — all times — to move on from your job. You are never safe, but don’t be fearful about it.
Every exit leads to a new door, if this is really what you love to do.
Get out of the business if you find you don’t love it anymore after a decent period of time. Don’t jump ship after anything less than a year, and really, you should stick around for at least two years before drifting to the wind.
You won’t stop stumbling until after year one and you want start running until you get into that second year. Give it time. Learn. Every expert started out green
Most of all, remember to be a human — a friend, a brother, a mother, a traveler. Let your career be a catalyst that catapults you to your dreams, wherever they may be.