When was the last time you were inspired?
If you can’t remember then perhaps it’s time to create your own inspiring environment.
Being a journalist is hard work, especially with deadlines, pressing bosses and the demand to learn and then tell inspiring stories accurately, and without bias. The field is also increasingly more stressful — newspapers have declining circulations, TV and radio stations have audiences to gain and retain, and web-based journalism is still trying to make money.
So how can we be and stay inspired? For starters, bosses and coworkers will not, usually, take the initiative to motivate you. It is up to you to seek people, places and activities that guide us onto bigger and better ideas.
Here are a few of the things that inspire me, if you have things to add – please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone has had good or bad times at work — the instance when someone e-mailed a complaint about your story, the person who calls to say you helped them. Both kinds can be inspiring. I was most inspired to jump into the journalism world by someone who talked for two hours about how his job was depressing and difficult. Next time someone says they don’t like your story, find out why and use that to improve. When someone tells you they liked your story, read or watch it and think about what went right.
The most critical point of being a journalist is learning about things and conveying that knowledge to readers, viewers and bloggers in a clear and meaningful way. The better you are at learning and understanding topics, the better you will be at explaining them.
Many new reporters tend to lose their personal lives when starting their first job. Keeping a hobby, significant other and friends will usually lower your stress levels and introduce you to activities that may lead you to story ideas or to a better understanding of what you cover.
Another way to lower your stress, and refresh your mind, is to read often. Anything counts — magazines, newspapers, blogs, novels, poetry and plays can all give you ideas, take your mind off the next day of work, and most importantly will make you a better storyteller.
Many people tell young reporters to find a mentor, very few explain. A mentor is typically an older, more experienced journalist — but I don’t always agree. Mentors can be younger and less-experienced journalists than you, compelling people you’ve interviewed, family members, friends or anyone else who makes you want to be a better journalist.
The Society of Professional Journalists has training sessions, informational programs and speaker presentations sponsored by local chapters and available at regional and national conferences. These help to stimulate your mind in thinking about your job differently. Even if the speakers are not inspiring, sometimes just the training setting, or as I call it “being in the room,” can make you step back and brainstorm new ideas.
Look at ways stories are told — from your grandmother to a TV show. This will lead you to think on each story how it can best be told. Sometimes telling other’s stories is therapeutic — such as the time I wrote an obituary for a man who left behind an 18-year-old son, the age I was when my father died. It was an emotionally-difficult story, but I must say that I worked hard to tell that dad’s life story.
Try to create an inspiring workspace. Some may laugh at my Brenda Starr poster, or cringe at my pink-fabricated cubicle walls, but my desk inspires me. A note from the previous city hall reporter, my first A1 story, a map of press freedom levels worldwide, a thank you note from my dance student — when I’m stressed or feel down, all I need to do is look around.
Paychecks for starting journalists may be nothing to feel good about — trust me, I’m there. But, at least we are working and getting paid to do it. Some people would give anything to have that.
Once you’ve caught the bug of inspiration — spread it around. Sure, some people are untouchable grumps. But, inspiring just one other person at your workplace will only make your job more pleasurable, plus you can brainstorm together.
Sonya Smith covers city hall for the Irvine World News and its parent newspaper the Orange County Register. She has been an active member of SPJ for five years, serving as the national student representative for the Society and now president of the newly-founded Orange County Satellite Chapter.