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Home > Generation J > Wish I'd Known Then...

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The Lessons

Don’t Just Sit There! Engage!
Plenty of insanely talented jerks never get anywhere despite their insane talent. Why? Because they're jerks!

Adopt a Role Model, Not a Mentor
I remember nights when he made me cry — unintentionally, I’m sure — and question my decision to enter this field. He poked, pushed and prodded me to do my best work. Always. No exceptions. No questions asked.

It’s the Reporting, Stupid!
“On rare occasions, editors left my copy unscathed. I could actually recognize my story when I picked up the paper the next morning. And that got me to wondering why.”

It’s About Your Audience, Stupid!
I got there about the same time as everyone else — and so did the newspaper's photographer. He went in one direction; I headed in the other. I asked questions, and so did he. We came to very different conclusions, and I'm ashamed to say I scoffed at his the night this story broke.

Working the Ladder
It's amazing how far a can of soda will get you.

Step Off That Ladder Every Now and Then
I learned some really important lessons from Ed Williams, my first editor out in the professional working world, but what you’re about to read ranks right at the top.

Speak a Second Lingo
I share all of this because I've seen firsthand how the effort to learn a language can help a journalist on the job. My editors have always been keenly aware of my Spanish skills — which I'm sure helped me land at least one job.

The Training Tithe
Life is filled with priorities. I'm not here to knock yours, but I will be the first to say that not making professional growth and development an important part of your career is a big, fat mistake.

See the Bigger Picture — and Your Place in It
“I was so nervous about finding a job. I didn't do my homework and research some of the areas in which I might work. Three days before I started my first job, the county voted to begin selling beer and wine. Yikes! I almost moved into a dry county.”

Evaluations and Critiques
I've had to get over myself in a big way since graduating from college. I always said I wanted my work critiqued — but I never admitted to anyone that I didn't want it criticized.

Get to Know Your Newsroom
By going to that session, I also learned more about advertising. Plenty of folks from the Trib's ad department were also in attendance. They don't need to know code either, but they do need to learn more about ad placement on a Web page — and they do need to know more about my reasons, as a journalist, for wanting to be careful about the hows and wheres those ads are posted online.

While working from 1997 to 2000 as a higher-education reporter for Tribune Media Services in Chicago, I was charged with building and supervising a national network of college-student journalists who would generate content for what was then the nation’s largest and oldest college news service.

I tapped only the best and brightest to join my team. They were undergraduate and graduate students whose writing, photography, graphics and cartoons were distributed to myriad news organizations wanting news about — or of interest to — the college crowd.

TMS didn’t give me much of a budget to work with, so I had to come up with creative ways to keep the student correspondents engaged, inspired — and generally feeling as if they were getting something of value for their work.

That’s when I decided to bare my soul. Share my some of my not-so-pretty moments in journalism. Tell all. Spill secrets. Admit insecurities.

I had fabulous help: My first editor out of college. Ed Williams, a longtime editor at the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record, remembers (or is that “shudders at the thought of?”) my first reporting gig well. He is a masterful writer and editor, who, thankfully, came clean about his own professional mistakes. Together, we crafted what quickly became known around TMS as “the weekly tutorials.”

The recipients of our e-mail confessionals were hooked — and helped. I’m tremendously proud that dozens of the more than 200 young correspondents I supervised have assured me over the years that these life lessons — updated for SPJ.org only slightly to reflect the times — spared them much grief.

I hope they will help you, too.

Christine Tatum
National President, Society of Professional Journalists, 2007

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