What must it be like to have your professor tell you that you’re not cut out for this major? You won’t be good at this major. You won’t succeed. You should give it up.
Welcome to my life as an introverted journalist.
I was taking the class that was supposed to weed everyone out. It was the class from hell, the class that you would love to hate: Gateway to Media. There is a major project due every single week in this class. You suddenly had to become an expert, or at least half-way decent, photographer, videographer, reporter, website-designer and podcast developer. You had to do all of this in one term (which honestly wasn’t as hard as I am making it out to be). It was fun, but if you wanted to take pride in your work you had to work HARD. Because if you were like me you’ve never done any of this before so it was a steep learning curve.
So I was doing my thing. I was doing interviews, throwing myself into uncomfortable situations and learning things I never dreamed that I would. I loved it. So one day I went into my professor’s office to ask for advice. You can probably guess where this is going.
I’m a shy person. Maybe not so much anymore, but I used to be super shy. I was driven and I will stand up for myself, but I am also soft spoken and a people pleaser. My professor picked up on this after talking to me for a mere 10 minutes and told me that I shouldn’t even try to become a journalist. That I should give up. I’m glad he told me this because it made me work harder.
So for all of the introverts out there, I have a few pieces of general advice to give you if you want to try to work in the world of journalism.
First of all, being an introvert can actually help you out. Sometimes. The reason being is because introverts are great listeners, they are generally good researchers and on average take notice of behaviors more than your average extrovert. We’re like mini sherlock holmes. So what we can’t do small talk for more than a minute. What does small talk really do anyway? In all seriousness being a good listener is really half the battle (I’m going to assume that you are already a decent writer if you plan on going into journalism). The extroverted part of this job is figuring out how to get that interview. You need to make calls, you need to stop people on the street, send emails, knock on doors, but once you’ve got the extroverted part of the job out of the way, the introverted part comes into play (yes, I did just try to rhyme). Because Mr./Mrs. Extrovert is probably going to want to talk when they are in an interview. They probably won’t be listening as well as you and won’t pick up on subtle details like you do. Hmm, this person crossed their arms and frowned when they mentioned this specific event. Let’s ask them more questions about that event.
We might not talk as much, but that’s a good thing because when you’re in that interview you don’t want to talk a lot. In fact, awkward silences can help. This is great because we introverts are great at awkward silences (at least I am). What I mean by this is that if you ask a somewhat difficult, or intrusive question, e.g. “Can you tell me about your relationship with your mother? How did it feel when she abused you?” (Questions like these are not something to spring on people, and I never ask them lightly) people probably aren’t going to want to talk to you this. You aren’t a therapist. You may or may not be trained. This is an extremely personal question and quite frankly they might even be angry that you are asking it (I have more advice on how to ask difficult questions, but I’ll tell you that later on). But let’s say they aren’t giving you the answer you want or they aren’t giving you much of an answer at all. Awkward silences can help. (Don’t abuse this power, if people aren’t comfortable or ready it is not ethical to push them unless there is a good reason to do so.) The reason awkward silences help is because people want to fill them. If you ask a question and they give a short answer one thing I try to do is nod and not say anything. Look like you are engaged, interested, act like you care, but don’t say anything. In general, people will want to talk and it can get you the answer you were looking for. I am completely comfortable in an awkward silence and I know a lot of extroverts who are not.
Going off of my topic before about asking difficult questions I’m going to give you a guide on how to do so. Bear in mind that this will not work every time, and this should always be done with caution and your best discretion. Trust your instincts.
The key to good journalism is good interviews. To get good interviews you need to get to know your subject well, to get to know your subject well you need to conduct multiple interviews. Unless you are just that good at creating intimacy in the first interview (some people are) I would recommend easing your way in.
First I start with some small talk so they can get to know you as a person (Small talk is not fun for the average introvert but it is important). I normally start by asking a little bit about who they are when you are off the record. Take a genuine interest in this and hear them out. I try to do this by never agreeing with them, but listening to them. Ask follow-up questions. Here is an example.
“Are you enjoying this weather?”
“No, it’s awful. I miss the sun.”
“Yeah? More of a sunny weather person? What drew you to Oregon then?”
Sound interested in them! Even if they are the most boring person ever you can find something interesting. He’s an accountant? Where did he go to school? Why is he passionate about accounting? What kind of accounting? Why that kind of accounting? Even if you know nothing about a person’s job you can ask about their hobbies, or you can admit you don’t know anything about their job but would love to learn more. People LOVE talking about themselves. Take advantage of this.
So you’ve had a casual conversation with them. I start by asking some easy questions. Start by asking them how to spell their first and last name, what pronouns they prefer, what are their hobbies, what do they do for a work? Where did they go to school? Baseline questions before you get into the heavier stuff.
*Important note* If you uncover something interesting in the easy questions keep going! Don’t just stick to your script.
What not to do:
- You: What do you do for fun?
- Subject: I hunt down serial killers in my spare time (?!!?!?!)
- You: Where do you work?
This is a pretty obvious example, but you get the picture. If they say something interesting keep digging. Who knows where you’ll get.
When I do this I often get something that is much better than what I was looking for or what I was at first interviewing for.
After you’ve asked some of your easier questions you can start to ease your way into some more heavy questions. Because you have already built up some trust with them it is more likely that they will respond well to you (assuming that it went well). Typically I would wait until the second interview to ask the difficult questions. This is all really dependent though. How much access do you have to them? If you might not see them again you’re going to want to get all of your questions out in this first interview. Also, if things are going really great and they seem pretty open you might feel comfortable asking those difficult questions. If they seem closed off it might be a good idea to hold off and wait for the next interview. You really have to trust your gut here. Try to pick up on their signals. Are they crossing their arms? Are they not making eye contact? Are they steering the conversation away from specific topics. These can be telltale signs of people who might need a little warming up.
After you do your interviews and get those answers, (by the way I would recommend ALWAYS recording your interviews in case you need evidence one day (you might!) but make sure you tell them that you are recording them. I normally say that it is just so that I ensure that they are quoted accurately. They normally appreciate this when I explain why I am recording them.) it is time to start writing your article. This is really where being an introvert can come in handy. I’m not saying that extroverts can write because that’s just ridiculous! I’m just saying that I’ve worked with a lot of extroverts and most of the time I get my writing done before them because I don’t get as distracted by talking with others.
The whole point of this post is to really ensure that you introverts don’t stop doing journalism just because you are well introverts. It might be difficult at first but I promise that it does get better. Don’t give up! Many introverts have come before you and been great journalists. Remember that being an introvert is not a weakness, our talents are just a little less obvious then extroverted talents, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.
This saying is so overused and slightly annoying at this point but I’m going to use it anyway. Let your haters be your motivators. Prove those people wrong who say you can’t do it because you can! Believe in yourself because I know you can do it. I promise you that success is not determined by talent but its determined by grit. What I mean by this is perserverance, courage and strength of character.