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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...

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Lesson No. 1
Don’t Just Sit There! Engage!

The following letter to the editor from Campus Correspondent Billy O'Keefe of Columbia College Chicago ran in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 10, 1999:


Applying for the Job
PARK RIDGE — Can I have Barbara Shulgasser's job? Because after reading her extremely lazy and careless review of "Dick" (Aug. 4), I'm not sure she wants it.

It's fine if Shulgasser didn't like the movie; we live in a free country, after all. But instead of giving us even one reason why it's worthy of only one star, Shulgasser spent the first half of the article championing herself and berating the rest of the country with childish generalizations (confidential to Barbara: You don't have to be a "40-year-old" to understand history. At least, I don't.), and wrapped up the piece with the same who-played-who rundown that appears in the centerpiece of every movie review. One wonders if Shulgasser actually saw the film, or just visited the official Web site.

I haven't quite graduated from college yet and I'm taking six classes in the fall, but please don't let that discourage you from giving me Barbara's next assignment. Because I'd rather lose a good night's sleep to a word processor every now and then than to see such terrible work in the Tribune again.


Ahem. In as official a tone as I can muster (OK, so I'm smirking ...): I'm applauding Mr. O'Keefe for a couple of reasons:

1. He's obviously a passionate newspaper reader.

2. He's got an opinion of his own, and he's not afraid to share it. There's something awfully refreshing about that. (Let's just hope Ms. Shulgasser isn't the hiring editor when Billy comes to the Trib looking for work. As much as I love him, he can't be a campus correspondent forever!! :>)

Why am I sharing all of this?

Billy’s letter reminds me of some much larger issues I should address before you head into the big, bad world of full-time work.

I encourage each and every one of you to read the news! Don't just talk about covering it. Read the news, and pay attention to how it is gathered and presented. Be engaged. Write letters to the editor and columns for the op-ed pages. Join professional organizations, such as the Society of Professional Journalists. Advance causes supporting journalism and its integrity. You don't have to accept poor reporting, poor newsroom policy, poor management, poor behavior — or just about any other poor thing you can think of from your colleagues and supervisors.

Make change, positive change, everywhere you work. It doesn't have to be anything earth shattering, but do something. I've heard of reporters forming writing groups and adult literacy programs and organizing fundraisers to benefit journalism. You can, too.

But while you’re out there trying to help journalism, always choose your battles carefully. Be gracious and warm. Be professional and direct. Be firm but kind when doing your job or letting others in the newsroom know what you think. Plenty of insanely talented jerks never get anywhere despite their insane talent. Why? Because they're jerks!

Journalists — particularly young ones — often have a tough time knowing when to speak up, to push for change in their newsroom, in the industry. They're nervous and constantly scratching to get their first big promotion. So, they often say what folks want to hear rather than what actually needs to be said.

Don't lose sight of what's important: the improvement and protection of journalism. Let that be your overarching mission, and you’ll earn plenty of respect.

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Indianapolis, IN 46208
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