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Mistakes aspiring journalists should avoid: Advice from the board

Journalists just entering the field are bound to make many, many mistakes. Most of these are necessary to learn and improve their craft, but there are some mistakes a journalist should do their best to avoid from the get-go. The SPJ board members offered their professional advice on common mistakes aspiring journalists should avoid:

“Avoid becoming complacent and thinking you can’t improve.”
– Oren Campbell, retired journalist

“Be more than just a byline. Your first job won’t be your last, and when you move on, you should have something that survives along with you. Blog. Network. Use social networks. Make sure that each time you take a new job, your network and your known skill set grow. A second thing-to-avoid: You’re a journalist — don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to talk to or approach other journalists for advice. Funny story: Just a few years ago, I was fresh out of college and new to the business. I didn’t know much about social media at first, and one of the people I started following on my networks and listening to for advice was Mónica [Guzman]. Now we’re on the SPJ board together, and I have a job titled ‘social media strategist.’ You’ll be surprised how willing these people are to share their knowledge and help you out.”
– Paul Balcerak, social media strategist

“The worst mistake a new journalist can make is turning in an inaccurate story. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions of your sources, editors and co-workers. It’s better to ask questions before you go to print than being prideful and then having an inaccurate story on your hands. Also, don’t be rude to people. Sometimes journalists come into a situation thinking they should be treated a certain way or they think they can treat people rudely. Do NOT do this, not even once. It will haunt you throughout your career and make your job a lot harder than it needs to be. I’m not saying you should let people walk all over you or anything like that, but treat people with respect.”
– Breanne Coats, SPJ president and former writer at the Business Examiner

“Don’t succumb to the desire to be first! Breaking news is important, and could be a career changer if you do it properly. But being first sometimes leaves you open to inaccuracies, and that can have dangerous repercussions to you, your audience and the community you serve.”
– Ethan chung, deputy editor at Premier Media Group

“Never, ever, ever let your ego get in the way of getting better at what you do. When you need help, ask for it. When you think collaboration with make your story better, collaborate. I was too competitive early in my career, in secret ways that only held me back.”
– Monica Guzman, columnist at The Seattle Times and GeekWire

Ola Wietecha is a University of Washington student and an intern with SPJ’s Western Washington chapter. Email her at

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