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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.

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


Lesson No. 2
Adopt a Role Model, Not a Mentor

Let’s explore ways to survive your first job out of j-school. A friend — actually, the man who gave me my first job — is going to help me.

Ed Williams
Ed Williams
His name is Ed Williams, and he’s based at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. Ed has held just about every kind of editing post the paper has to offer. As a reporter, he covered criminal justice, appellate courts, politics, medicine and science. Ed is a wine connoisseur, who writes some of the most insightful and entertaining columns on the subject appearing anywhere. His reporting and editing have been recognized with numerous awards.

Ed is a great guy who can be a huge pain in the you-know-what when your copy is in his hands. 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.

While none of this may sound like much fun to you, I look back at my days working with Ed as some of the most interesting and rewarding of my career. I grew and grew as a result. I have had the privilege of working with some of the nation’s best editors, and I can assure you that Ed Williams is among them. Every journalist in the country would be lucky to have his or her copy sent even once through his wringer. I know I was. These are Ed’s words of wisdom, not mine:

Adopting a mentor has been fashionable advice. My mentors at my first two newspapers thought like me, acted like me, sported the same cynicism. A fine security blanket, but I didn't learn much from them because they were a reflection. I hung with the people who told me what I wanted to hear. I did not spend enough time with the journalists rocketing to stardom.

Who were the stars? They were suck-ups, brown-nosing their way up, I told myself. Or they got lucky, caught a few breaks on a big story.

Had I looked closer I would have seen that they were multi-talented: sure, they were good at "office politics" but they were also good at sourcing, networking, interviewing. The same "people skills" they practiced on newsroom managers were the same skills they practiced on the beat.

It wasn't natural talent; they had a process, a way of sizing up people. They always had a standard set of interrogatories or mental checklist they applied to every situation. They had some tools and they created their luck. They were not always popular with the rank-and-file (hey, they were making the rest of us look bad!).

A closer look would have shown me that they had another talent: they were usually patient teachers, willing to take time to coach — if anyone would only listen. At my next newspaper, I latched on to these people, studied them, learned how and why they did what they did. And then I did what they did. And then I got lucky. I wish I had gotten lucky a whole lot sooner.

A few thoughts from me:

Newsrooms are filled with quirky folks — and I do mean quirky. Take special care not to write off anyone for superficial reasons. That is, unfortunately, human nature, but do your best to overcome it. Look beyond the right crowd and clothes, swagger and pedigree. Don’t overlook colleagues just because they’re quiet or doing journalism that looks different from yours. Many newsrooms could be transformed in the most dynamic and positive ways if journalists actively sought to know more about the professional strengths and interests of their colleagues and those they supervise.<

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Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

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