Biggest fuck up
My biggest career fuck up was joining a national news brand in 2015 in a role that I wasn’t suited for. I had just completed a few years ‘paying my dues’ in local newspapers, and an opportunity arose to be a deputy editor on the tablet production team. At the time, I convinced myself it was good experience, and it’d be great to have on my CV for whatever I wanted to do next. But the truth is I wasn’t good at it, and I lacked the motivation to get good at it.
What I fucked up was not being honest with myself. Self-deception is almost always the root cause of any big mistake.
I was convinced that joining a national news brand was where I should have landed after working in local papers for several years. So I began being dishonest with myself about my skills (I was trained to be a news journalist, not a subeditor or a coder) and the sudden importance of salary (it was a significant pay rise, but hardly life-changing).
But most importantly, I lost sight of the bigger picture: careers are short, and you need to use every fleeting day at work to be amazing at what you do.
It’s really as simple as that: be amazing at what you do. If you’re not at work trying to do that right now, you’re fucking up at this very moment.
I was a pretty good news reporter, but by no means remarkable. I should have stopped worrying about trying to work at a national newsbrand at all costs and, instead, just focus on getting even better at getting scoops, using digital tools to tell stories in more engaging ways, and, most of all, being the best writer I could be.
Business journalism is rarely worthy of the name. Most of the time, business journalists play two roles — neither of which is actually helping businesspeople be better informed in a meaningful way.
- Stenographers: too many financial reporters and business journalists don’t actually understand what they’re reporting on when it comes to a company’s earnings reports or a press release explaining why they’ve done something.
But they’re sure good at ‘churning’ the information they’re given into a credible way. No wonder so many are worried about the impact of AI, which will hopefully replace the churners soon so they can do something more valuable for society.
- Sports reporters: too many business journalists choose to report on business like they’re covering a niche sporting competition. Hence the apparent rise and fall of industry ‘star players’; the use of ‘win’ and ‘lose’ vocabulary to describe account moves, and the frankly laughable coverage of industry awards which are usually pay-to-play shakedowns.
Every day in my editorial meeting with my team, I constantly nag them to tell our readers “why” something is happening in media, not just “what.”
The world is too noisy to treat our readers without the utmost respect. Journalists need to offer value, especially when writing for specialist audiences who know their trade and are looking for meaningful insight.
Someone once asked Jerry Seinfeld how he got so good at telling jokes. The answer turned out to be quite unremarkable and yet so few people are capable of emulating it.
The answer is simply this: show up every day and do the work. Dedicate at least 10 minutes to practising the thing you want to get better at. Get a calendar a cross off every day that you managed to do that 10 minutes or more of difficult, mind-stretching practice.
Once you’ve completed days, weeks, and months, of consecutive Xs filling up the calendar, things will start happening. You will start to become amazing at what you do. People will start noticing.
As the academic Cal Newport wrote, you will eventually be “so good they can’t ignore you” (which also happens to be the title of his book where I learned this advice).