How criticism made me a better journalist

“If your work doesn’t improve dramatically I think you should seriously reconsider your career as a journalist”

That was the advice I received around one week into my first writing job, as a freelancer. I was new to the news writing game and had barely written my 10th article. After four years at university, writing well over 80,000 words of essays and reports, I figured that I was a good writer. In truth, I didn’t have a clue how to write proper news stories.

I was angry, I was hurt and upset. I took the advice and seriously considered my future as a journalist… For about five seconds.

I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and right there and then took the criticism on the chin and decided to improve. It still took me another few months to reach a level that required little to no sub-editing and I’m still learning to this day, 8 months on from that piece of advice.

I happen to have quite the stubborn personality, which apparently helps in this field. If someone tells me “you can’t” or “you’re terrible at this” I’ll just think “watch me” and throw myself into becoming better. Criticism is very hard to take, and being a perfectionist/competitive person I always take it harder than I perhaps should. As soon as I hear the editor’s keyboard clacking after I submit a story I immediately castigate myself for messing up.

Yet it’s this attitude that has enabled me to get to where I am. I have no journalism qualifications (yet) and have gone up against candidates for jobs who have got the degrees and the qualifications over and over again and been pipped to the post. If you’re not willing to improve continually then you’ll end up in a dead end.

That piece of criticism I received barely days into my journey as a writer has stuck with me throughout what happened afterwards, and I often look back at the articles I wrote to remind myself how far I’ve come in such a short time.

Good god, some of them are awful.

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