5 career lessons I learned as a journalist

What I learned from being a journalist

You learn a few things after being plunged into the world of media.

(For me, it’s been the need to be absolutely ruthless with my time, because I could easily work 24/7. That’s hardly industry-specific, though.)

But there are a few other things that are totally applicable to everyone.

There are no stupid questions

Okay, maybe you’ll look stupid or feel stupid for asking for clarification for what might seem a really basic concept. But you’ll feel even stupider if you don’t, and end up getting the wrong end of the stick. β€œWhen you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” So never be afraid to ask simple questions – WHY? HOW? Unless it’s due to you not doing any research of your own, most people will appreciate that you’re genuinely trying to understand what’s going on, whether it’s in reference to a scientific idea, a financial concept, a new hi-tech product.

The power of silence

People chatter when they’re nervous. They want to fill the empty airspace. Silence is used by salespeople as a tactic to get what they want. Know when to shut up and use it to your advantage, i.e. in negotiations.

Ask “who else should I talk to?”

Sara Ganim won the Pulitzer for breaking the Penn State scandal. And it all started by asking a regular source, “Anything else going on?” This applies to everyone – if you’re looking for work, ask everybody you know, and ask them to put the feelers out. When dealing with a customer, ask for referrals.

Start easy, and ease into the heavy stuff

I’m not a big fan of small talk, but accept it’s a necessity. Sometimes I am even quite good at it. Getting things done is often about greasing the wheels. It’s about setting people at ease, getting them used to you, and warming them up. You wouldn’t march into your boss’ office, sit down without greeting and demand a raise at the top of your voice, right? Before getting into the nitty-gritty, hard-hitting stuff, smooth the path and lay the groundwork.

Just do it

It’s all too easy to put tasks off, to feign that you “need to do more research”. God knows we all did that countless times at journalism school. Nope. What you need to do is pick up the damn phone or send that email. I still occasionally suffer from phone phobia (and sometimes can’t help but wonder, as a die-hard shy introvert, if I’m in the wrong business) but I have no choice but to suck it up and deal to it. It’s usually a lot less scary than you imagine. Whoever is on the other end is just a person – another human being, like you or me. While the worst that could happen can be pretty embarrassing (BEING HUNG UP ON), it’s less daunting having put it behind you, rather than have it hang over your head.

7 thoughts on “5 career lessons I learned as a journalist

  • Reply lkrant April 27, 2012 at 13:19

    Over the ears I have honed my skills in asking questions. I remember a consulting assignment when some one told me I asked too many questions. I bet she started to feel a little uncomfortable with the answers.

  • Reply Earth and Money April 27, 2012 at 13:34

    These are all excellent lessons to remember. I have the hardest time with ‘Just do it’. I’m a serial procrastinator, although that does benefit my blogging because that is usually how I procrastinate, so at least its not totally counter-productive. I’m also not very good with networking and asking who else I should talk to. To be honest, I don’t think I would make a very good journalist πŸ™‚

  • Reply mslizot April 27, 2012 at 22:09

    Phones are the worst, but I’m getting better. This is all really sound advice that I guess should almost be common sense. Great job on being no-nonsense with it, and thank you!

  • Reply Shawanda @ You Have More Than You Think April 28, 2012 at 09:00

    Like you, I’m an introvert. I used to have a hard time talking to people, but I learned a trick. I have no idea why it works, but I discovered a long time ago that speaking louder makes me feel more confident. I’m don’t talk obnoxiously loud, but I’m loud enough to convince the listening party that I want to be and deserve to be heard.

  • Reply Mildly Entertained April 28, 2012 at 17:14

    Are you a journailist?! Can you get me a job and I’ll become a Kiwi? πŸ™‚ I love these points – particularly the one about silence. I once read something that said, “Think about what you say before you say and ask yourself – is it something that needs to be said?” – yes, yes, yes. If half the people did this before posting on Facebook and Twitter, there wouldn’t be a bunch of narcissitic or bashing comments.

    • Reply eemusings April 28, 2012 at 20:54

      I’ll probably do a post along the lines of “So you want to be a writer?” at some point. Stay tuned…

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