How to get unstuck if you’re a mid-level journalist

by HackPack member Karen Rebelo (read in Russian)

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You’ve spent a few years in the company; you’re not exactly green behind the ears but your manager doesn’t think you’re top dog stuff either. Threatening to quit isn’t an option, you know you’ll be replaced inexpensively. What do you do?

At the outset, let me just say that I wasn’t a newsroom train wreck, I was a newsroom supernova. I’ve been a journalist for 8 years, long enough to know this industry attracts the very best and the very worst. A newsroom can often be like a fish bowl, sucking you into its drama.

My need to write this comes from my suspicion that a lot of introverted people like me don’t think of themselves as ‘salesmen.’ The following are a few life lessons I learned the hard way.

  1. It’s YOUR problem
    Your career trajectory is no one else’s problem but yours. Your editors have their plate full. Unless you make your career path their business, they aren’t going to care about it.

2. Spell out your plans (but don’t pour your heart out)
Managers aren’t mind readers. You can’t keep hoping that someone will notice how hard you’ve been working. No one will, until you drop the ball. A great conversation starter is ‘I would like to be considered for… followed by ‘what do I need to do to make it happen?’ It could be professional training, a secondment or a team lead role. More importantly it shows that you have ambition and don’t expect things to be handed to you. Keep up the momentum by revisiting this conversation every few months and by working on things that you need to improve. (but don’t pour your heart out)

You may plan to study further, be a consultant or move to another city, it doesn’t matter, nobody likes being a back-up. If your boss thinks you don’t have enough skin in the game he or she isn’t going to bother investing in you.

3. Don’t believe the management narrative
Okay, this is important. The surest way managers silence employees is by making them feel that they (employees) aren’t good enough. When your manager starts saying things like ‘difficult attitude’ or ‘sense of entitlement’, make a dash for the exit. Good editors talk story ideas and how to get there; bad editors talk about personalities. Yes, you’ve got to earn it but you don’t have to jump through every hoop they put before you. Your job should be everything you want it to be, nothing less.

4. “We don’t have the budget for it”
If you’re naive like I was, you might say “That’s okay, but I saw that XXXXX got promoted.” Wrong answer.

You’re never going to get that promotion if you discredit the official story. And there’s always employee XXXX, the alchemist who can turn b***s**t into gold. Never build your argument on fairness. You should get the job because you positioned yourself as the best candidate.

Also, budgetary woes don’t last a lifetime. Don’t stop asking. The company will find a way to make do or go bust. Do you really want to work at a place that is constantly underlining financial doom?

5. Don’t reveal your secret sauce
Being a mid-level journalist means that sometimes you will be required to mentor newer employees. You can be a decent person and not give away your leverage. This isn’t about being insecure, it’s about building a moat around your skills. Time is the best teacher, you don’t need to be its teaching assistant.

6. Be a lifelong learner
You can’t sleepwalk through a career. Be awake, know what’s happening in your industry and with your competitors and never stop learning. There are hundreds of websites that offer courses from some of the best universities for a nominal fee.

7. Discretion is everything

This industry is smaller than you think. Don’t undermine your chances by speaking ill of an employer especially on social media. My ex-managers still check in with me sometimes before making hiring decisions. Finally, not all managers are evil. I’ve worked with some really good ones too. But if you do find yourself stuck, know that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can’t expect managers to share everything but you should expect honesty about the things that impact you.

Know your worth, work hard and ask for what you deserve. You might not always get it but it doesn’t mean you’ll never get it. Find an organization that recognizes your worth. Not every company deserves to have you.

This post is authored by HackPack member Karen Rebelo. She is a former Reuters news correspondent and former senior producer at one of India’s leading business news channels. She continues her journalism career writing occasionally about workplace relations.

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