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


Lesson No. 10
Evaluations and Critiques

Ed Williams writes:

A lot of smaller newspapers wait six months to 12 months to evaluate staff. Two things can happen as a result — and both are bad: bad habits are not corrected soon enough, and good habits are not reinforced quickly enough.

Ed Williams
Ed Williams
I wish I had pushed the issue and asked for a performance eval after my first six weeks and again after three months. Many smaller newspapers don't have any formal critique process to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly. As a result, young journalists get a lot of conflicting advice. The copy desk chief loved your work, but the city editor hated it. The city editor liked how you structured your weekender, but the managing editor thought it was disjointed. The managing editor praised you for holding the city council's feet over the fire — but the publisher thought your piece too edgy.

A helpful critique process can come from your colleagues. There are two keys:

1. Critique sessions must be held frequently enough so that reporters get three or four stories evaluated in the course of a year.
2. The critiques must be built around very specific criteria. Creating a forum for a half dozen conflicting and highly subjective opinions of "writers" is worse than no critique process at all. So let the reporters identify the criteria and define what success looks like. Then have them rate on some numerical scale how a piece stacks up against the criteria.

Almost always, a consensus emerges and patterns are detected. The best teachers are often our peers.

My thoughts:

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.

It's important to understand from the outset that we must accept the good with the bad. We must learn from our mistakes — and we do indeed make them. We must improve — and there's always room to do so. We should consider our colleagues’ criticism — but not take it personally.

Unless you're realllllly weird, criticism is almost always hard to swallow. But I hope you'll remember one very important thing as you assume your first job: Many people who offer you advice are sincerely trying to make your work better — particularly when you’re the one who asked them to speak up in the first place. Make sure you don't dismiss what they're saying too easily — and keep in mind that having to say something critical is no picnic either.

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