Monday, December 22, 2014

An Open Letter to Young Journalists

This didn't start out as an open letter. In fact, this is taken pretty much directly from a note I sent a young journalist with whom I occasionally exchange e-mails. But I feel like it's a really important thing they don't teach in journalism school or intern orientation. So, here it is: don't be a pain in the ass.

And now I am going to offer you some unsolicited and random advice that is really really important. But I offer it because I want you to succeed.  
People who are easy to edit go far in life. I don't just mean coming in with a polished product. I mean greeting each edit as an opportunity to get better at the craft. Realizing that you don't know it all, that there's so much you can learn and that a good hard edit is the best way to do it. Not pushing back hard on things that don't matter. Realizing every word you have written is not golden. Letting an editor kill one of your babies (a beloved piece of tape) or if you really, really don't want to let it go offering some other way to make up the time or otherwise tighten the piece. 
Edits can be negotiations. But they should never be battles. Resist all urges to be defensive. Treat every editor as a mentor. Sometimes this is hard to do, especially if you don't actually have a ton of respect for the editor. But realize you can learn something even from a mediocre editor.  
Now, I'm not saying you should just roll over if in the course of an edit your editor suggests adding a phrase you would never write or say. And certainly if a factual inaccuracy is introduced, stand up for your journalism. But these cases are rare. And there is always a way to push back without being a jerk about it.   
This is my personal philosophy now. I am a freakin' White House Correspondent and I don't know it all. My editors make me better every day. And part of my job as a reporter is to make them feel good about their work by being edited with grace. Seriously. Editors get their job satisfaction from making us better. It should be a pleasant experience for them.  
Back in the day, I produced a podcast B-Side and I also worked with a lot of interns. I edited a lot of people. The people who were somewhat unpleasant to edit, or fought over every word or came off like they knew it all...I've watched their careers derail. Not a single person who I edited who I thought "damn, I didn't enjoy that and I'd rather not edit them again," not one of them has had a successful career in public radio or even journalism.  
It matters. A lot. How you interact with editors and colleagues now could well be more important than anything you write.  
I believe I made it as far as I have because I am agreeable, I make sure editors know I want to be edited and I appreciate what they do...and because I sometimes bring baked goods to the office. Being good isn't good enough.  
Off my soap box.