Harsh Realities of Journalism & How to Deal

by - 9:00:00 AM

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of my goals is to spread real-world knowledge that won't necessarily be taught in school. I have a running series, (Not So) Basic Journalism Skills, that addresses single topics at a time like writing for deadlines, finding focus, and time management. Today, I'd like to talk about something a little less skill-oriented and focus on some harsh realities of the journalism industry and how to deal with them and not lose your sanity.

Criticism
Unfortunately in this line of work, more often than not the criticism will outweigh praise, especially when it comes to viewers/readers. One of the first steps in dealing is coming to terms with the fact that as a journalist you will always be in the cross hairs. Once you've accepted that, the next step is more acceptance. Repeat after me -- you will never make all of your viewers/readers happy. Something I've discovered over the course of 8 years is that if you're doing the job right, you're going to make some people angry. But remember this: it's not your job to make people happy.

So how do you cope with criticism? Regardless of where it's coming from - a viewer, a coworker, your boss - try not to take it personally. I know first-hand how difficult that can be especially when it feels like you're being attacked through your work, but trust me when I say it's vital to your mental health. Someone saying they didn't like your work or the way you did something is not the same as them saying you're stupid or that your work is stupid.

Instead of feeling wounded, I try to take criticism as an opportunity to grow, become better at my craft, or simply try something new. It doesn't always work because, hey I'm human! But taking something that was possibly meant in a negative way and turning it into something positive is so much better for the soul than wallowing in your pride.

Working Holidays
Go ahead and resign yourself to it now. You will work holidays. Yes, Christmas, too, if your station does shows that day. I have worked on literally every holiday or holiday-eve, especially when I first started. Now that I've been with my station for longer than most everyone else in the newsroom, I get to pick and choose which ones I work a little more (except in my case daycare ties my hands sometimes). That doesn't mean I still don't get stuck working a day I'd rather take off - I'm looking at you July 4th...but I know there's really no use being angry and/or resentful about it.

Luckily for me, my family is close, so just because I have to work on a holiday doesn't necessarily mean I miss out on everything. I know for many people just starting out that's not the case; some of you will wind up really far from home. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is this - connect with your coworkers.

My first year was spent producing the morning show, so holidays weren't that big a deal. We either didn't have a show or because of my weird schedule, festivities weren't really impacted. The first holiday I truly worked was the 4th of July. I was producing the 6:00 and 10:00 at the time. There were five of us in the building, not counting the production team. I had some sparklers in my desk - probably from a reporter doing a fireworks safety story - so my anchor, sports guy, and I went up to the roof of our building (eight stories) and had a little celebration of our own. We also were able to watch multiple fireworks shows from around the county at once thanks to our high advantage.

Spending holidays, especially big ones, away from your family will be tough, even if your family lives only an hour away like mine. I, personally, trade Thanksgiving for Christmas because Thanksgiving is the more important holiday for my family. I also usually trade Memorial Day for Labor Day because my dad and brother's birthdays fall on either side of that holiday weekend. So here's what I would recommend for you - decide early on which holidays mean the most to you and get your requests in early! After all, not everyone can be off at the same time. The news must go on!

You can't help everyone.
You can point people in the direction of help; you can do stories on people who need help; you can even choose to donate, volunteer, or give back in some other way outside of work; but if all of your efforts come up short, you can't beat yourself up over it. Our job is to inform, and if we do that in just the right way maybe, just maybe, we can affect some change. But we can't hold ourselves responsible for people who choose not to act on the information we provide them.

I have some good news for you, though. People are watching/reading/listening to the stories we tell, and while we may not be making great strides when it comes to political policies, we do make a difference when it comes to every day life. Don't believe me? Check out this story in which my station managed to change a man's life in less than 24 hours by simply sharing his story.

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