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Feeling Undervalued As A Journalist?

If there is anything to take from this it's that I take immense pride in the work that I do.

Do you have a shutdown ritual? Do you even know what a shutdown ritual is? According to a blog on mediacurrent, a shutdown ritual is a set routine of actions that you perform at the end of each workday to finalise your day and signify that your workday is done. Many of us need that full stop to end proceedings, and for many of us, it’s also the first step to beginning the next day.

On my phone I have a routine app that features the core daily tasks I have to ‘tick off’ each day. Many of these tasks are personal, things like taking a shower and setting aside 15-minutes for meditation, while other tasks are designed around giving my brain the information ‘fuel’ I need to keep myself updated with the world around me, like reading the news for 30-minutes and checking Twitter.

But one routine focuses on prep – aptly called the shutdown ritual.

Part of my personal shutdown ritual, and one of the core tasks I try to complete each day, is setting out exactly every work task I need to complete the next day. It’s not just the task I write down on a separate ‘to-do list’ app, it’s the exact requirements of the said task.

For example, I frequently write down “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” if I have a story due the next day or “research stats on disability employment” if I am preparing to pitch a project to an outlet. If I need to get guidance from an editor or talk through ideas, I’ll write something like “call newsroom to discuss angle X”.

The shutdown ritual also touches on personal appointments or tasks. Does my partner need something in particular from me on this day? I’ll write down exactly what she needs and the steps I need to take to deliver.

It’s all about the detail and the pre-planning is a crucial part of both executing these tasks. It’s also a core fundamental for my own sanity. Almost always, and trust me it happens a hell of a lot, when I don’t have a productive day (or even a productive week), it’s because I haven’t taken the time the day before to list out the agenda for said day or week.

You might read a task such as “write Chiefs feature in 800 words or less” and think that it’s fairly clear cut. But for me, the 800 bit is crucial because it gives me parameters, I now know the ideal word count so can begin thinking about its scope.

My list will also set out the exact time I will submit the story – usually an hour before deadline if possible.

I believe that the same idea can be applied to just about anything you do, whether written down in an app or not.

Want to know why so many people don’t execute on their work or don’t take that next step toward something bigger? It’s not so much that they fail, it’s the lack of attention to the how. For that, I have to give credit to a former mentor of mine and fellow disability advocate Jade Farrar, during our working relationship I marvelled at just how much time and energy he put into the small things that many of us overlooked.

I also have to credit some of the professional rugby players and coaches I speak to on a weekly basis. Their amount of thought and planning on game plans, physical shape, recovery and much more just makes the mind explode when you hear about how it’s all being put into action. A guy like Anton Lienert-Brown is a fine example of that, a deep thinker about his craft and the impact being a man in the spotlight can have on those around him whilst also knowing how to switch off and get away.

Cool Story Mike, So What’s The Point Exactly?

During these ever-increasing times, particularly in our work, it’s crucial that we allow ourselves to check it all at the door but not forget our value by underselling.

This may mean different things for different people, but for me, recent times have really forced a lot of reflection on the motives and value behind what I do, particularly as a freelance journalist. Just this week I went on Reddit and asked other freelancers about their approach to drawing a line in the sand and saying no when you start thinking your hard work is being taken advantage of.

Just a bit of context. The media business is short on money right now. Newsrooms are downsizing not expanding, journalists who were previously employed are now being asked to work as contractors and pitch stories on an individual basis.

It’s a tough industry at the best of times and, sadly, many of those who only care about the spreadsheets are putting editors in extremely tough positions by forcing them to let some of their very best writers go, or at the very least, take a hefty pay cut.

But for me, I didn’t actually understand how much time, energy and effort I was putting into my work for these different outlets until I did a bit of a google on myself. When you google ‘Michael Pulman Journalist’ it should take you to a site called Muckrack which pulls together all the clips that I’ve written for the various mainstream media outlets in the past year or two.

Turns out, I’ve done a fair bit of work. Then I began to think back to the process of writing those pieces that went on to be picked up by outlets and published in print.

It came down to the work, obviously, but it was also the quality of the process that was put around those particular articles. Few of those articles were rush jobs, looking back at my to-do lists from those particular dates showed me that I had taken the time to perform that shutdown ritual where I had the patience to map out, 1 what the task was, 2 when it was due, and 3 what the parameters for it all were.

Being a freelancer in an ever-competitive media space often makes you feel like you’ve got to be on the button constantly, ready to pitch a story at a moments notice and do it before anyone else, then get it written and out the door within an hour or two so it’s timely.

Some of that might be true, but a lot of it is also complete bullshit. Being timely on a piece doesn’t make it good, keeping up appearances might help forge good relationships, but the real work is often done in isolation where the outside influences don’t help deliver the final product.

You deliver the product, nobody else really holds you accountable if you are a freelancer. If you do deliver and hold yourself accountable to everything that’s involved in doing something of quality, you’ve got to understand that there is some real value in that.

When I posted on Reddit I asked a very simple question to some fellow freelancers.

Would you do all this and not expect to be paid? Would you provide that scoop and a quality, thought-provoking read for little more than thanks and handshake?

Sooner or later, you’ve got to flick that switch and stop beating yourself up over the things you cannot control. Speaking purely from the media landscape for a moment – you’ll likely have a hundred doors closed on you before one eventually opens a bit.

Guess how many times I had to work for free before any doors opened? I estimate that I’ve worked for free for well over three of my six years working in the media industry.

The doors started to open when I focused on the story, not the number of stories. As a freelancer, I’ve so often been guilty of focusing far too much on volume as opposed to value. If you’re motivated by volume and nothing else, you have no room to improve. I want to improve, I want to be the very best I can be at what I do, and yes, I want to feel valued by the outlets I write for.

So if you’re out there and you’re in a similar boat to me, please know you’re not alone. If you know you’re doing all you can then there is your value right there. Please do all you can to ensure your work is valued.

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