Recently, I was thinking over some of the harshest criticisms I’ve received in my career, and how I’m thankful for them now.
I decided to have some fun with this idea, so I pinged some journalist friends with this challenge: “I want you guys to try to remember things that editors have said to you, that shaped you, and which weren’t very nice.”
So, here is what my friends and I came up with. I’ve changed every female name to “Jennifer” and “Lauren,” every male name to “Bob.” My friends were more comfortable sharing this way, particularly because some of them are now at the top of their fields.
I’ve also obscured the names of the publications.
I hope they give you a good laugh. And if you happen to be new to this field or any other, know that the best professionals got that way in part thanks to tough love.
Please share yours!
“Hey Jennifer, over the weekend, why don’t you read the New York Times and learn how to fucking write.”
“What do you do? Be a fucking reporter, that’s what.” — Editor, after I called up and complained that nothing interesting happened at a Chicago city council housing committee meeting.
The editor walks over and slaps a draft printout of my “tech bits” write-up on my desk.
“You read that first sentence and tell me if it makes you want to read the rest of the story.”
I read my lede. It didn’t.
As he walked away, he said, “Don’t be boring.”
“He hung up on you? Go to his door so he can slam the door in your face instead.” –Editor
“Jennifer, stop bothering Lauren, she’s on deadline. LAUREN WHERE’S YOUR STORY!?” -Editor
“Bob, stop checking your email and get to work.” –Editor
“Sirens in The Loop.” –Editor. This was the extent of the conversation. I was expected to find out why.
“Call them back. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning. Let it ring three times, and if they don’t answer, hang up.” –Editor
“Wanna have a one-arm push-up contest?” –Editor, during an overnight shift. (He did 10, no problem. I did one.)
“There’s no news in the newsroom! Why are there so many fucking reporters in here? Get the fuck out and find what people will care about tomorrow.” — Editor to a room full of reporters on a day with a pretty empty story budget. We all left. We all found something decent.
“Did you write this lede before or after you went to the meeting? Because it sure as fuck doesn’t tell me anything new.” -Editor
Editor: “I didn’t get past the third word. Too boring. Do it over.”
Me: “The whole story?”
Editor: “If you stuck your best stuff up top, I sure as hell wasn’t going to read any more. Just start a whole new file. I don’t even want to read the filename again.”
Editor: “I read your story about the sportscaster.”
Editor: “I wanted to read the story about the felon instead.”
Me: “It’s the same guy.”
Editor: “I know that. The readers won’t though. Try again.”
Scrawled across a printout of a story: “NO”
Editor: “Your story was better last night than it was this morning.”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Editor: “I read three fingers into a bottle of whiskey. Write it so it’s good when I’m sober too.”
Me: When do you need this story?
Editor: 10 minutes ago.
Me: I can’t make that deadline.
Editor: SHUT THE FUCK UP AND WRITE!
Managing editor says to me and my immediate editor, all huffy, “What’s going on with this story?”
My immediate editor, throwing her hands up in the air: “Well, Lauren is going to write it but her toe just got grabbed by the criminal and she needs a little bit more time.”
Managing editor: Stares at us in stone-faced silence, as if getting one’s big toe grabbed during an interview is no excuse for being a little late.
“If you think you have a rat’s chance in hell of getting hired as a reporter in New York fresh out of grad school, you are sorely mistaken.” — Journalism mentor, advising on career path options
“I like everything about this story except the fact that the lede couldn’t have happened if you weren’t there. Don’t put yourself in it.” –Editor
Me: “Easily 30 inches.”
Editor: “Give me your best 12.”
Editor: “Keep it up and I’ll make it eight.”