Knock on the door: The courage of getting feedback

The most nerve-wracking experience for a reporter isn’t a big-time interview or driving into the heart of a storm. It’s not your first time going live or your contract negotiations.

It’s the 30 seconds before you knock on your boss’ door, holding a recent story in your hand.

The first time I had my news director look over my stories, I was a nervous wreck. I had only been reporting with the station for a few weeks, and had taken on various small-time stories: harvest fairs, free health clinics, the typical things you cover on a weekend in a small town. This was also my first period of time where I was expected to turn a package and VOSOT every day, which, as all reporters know, is a challenge.

So when I heard myself asking the question “can we go over my work sometime?” I immediately thought. What on earth did you do that for?

Would be criticize my stories? Tear them apart? Tell me I’m no good? Would he not like the content, the editing, my appearance? Hundreds of scenarios ran through my head, and all of them ended with me being labeled the Worst Reporter Ever. I considered walking through an open construction site without a hardhat.

But 30 seconds before I knocked on my boss’ door to show a DVD of my stories, I took a deep breath, let the fear wash over me, and walked in.

And you know what? It wasn’t perfect. This is not the part of the story where I tell you that everything turned out great, that I got a glowing review and was heralded as the second coming of Edward R. Murrow.

Instead, I was told my voice could be stronger, my stories could use more natural sound, and my writing needed to be tighter. My interviews should take place away from a person’s desk, and I needed to do a better job of lighting my subjects. At the same time, he said my shots were clean, I did a good job of writing to my video, and my standups demonstrated something that added to the story.

It’s all part of growing as a storyteller.

Young people involved in media are almost always afraid to get feedback, out of fear that they will be told they’re no good. It’s scary. You put your heart and soul into a piece of creative work, and someone could tear it apart in five seconds. You feel naked; all of your hard work laid bare for your boss to critique.

But it’s the only way you’ll get better.

Your boss, whether it’s a news director, editor, or publisher, has the same goal you do: to create the best content possible. Some bosses are nurturers, wanting to ease their employees into a career in media. Others have less tact and less time, and will tell you what they think regardless if it hurts your feelings. No matter what type of boss you have, take it all in. Recognize where you need to improve your storytelling and the areas in which you’ve succeeded. Take all that feedback – positive and negative – and channel it back into your work.

In college it’s easier, because you have advisers, professors, and staff members whose sole job is to grade your work. When you become a professional, you don’t have that luxury. No one is going to seek you out at your desk and tell you to bring in three packages for review. You need to have the courage to seek it out yourself. If you don’t, you’ll fail, which means something a little more serious in real life than in school.

I’ve seen reporters and producers insulate themselves from their news directors because they were afraid of criticism. They did their work day after day, working on shows and creating stories, but they never got any better, because no one else ever put eyes on it. If you want to succeed in this business, you have to get over that fear. Once you do, the quality of your work can only improve. But if you’re not actively striving to get better, you never will. It’s never going to be fun, and it’s never going to be easy, but it is always necessary.

Take the first step and knock on your boss’ door. You’ll be amazed at the difference a little feedback makes.

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