The liberating power of saying no

Reporters ask me all the time for advice on how to get assignments and pitch. There is typical advice that gets doled out: keep it short and sweet and don’t be a jerk to your editors, and you’ll go far.

That’s all fine and well, but what about saying no?

It is rare that I hear the word “no” from a reporter. Interestingly, the ones who do say it are often on a more high-powered track in their careers. It’s not that they have an easier time with the challenges of being a reporter. It’s that they regularly exercise control over decisions that will impact their finite supply of time and energy. They know that saying “no” is a key ingredient in success, no matter what your rubric for measuring that happens to be.

Observing a reporter say “no” to a crap assignment, a prison-level pay rate, or anything couched in coded language as “a great opportunity” is inspiring. Saying no to those things demonstrates a self-awareness and a recognition on the part of the journalist of their intrinsic value.

Journalists who know their value as a professional and a human being, and who ware unafraid to assert themselves with the word “no” will always get the better assignments, higher pay, more significant opportunities, and greater accolades for their work. That’s because they leave space for success. What’s more, there’s a greater chance they will make it to the end of that 45-year career with their mental and physical health intact and a significant legacy of published work.

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