A letter that’d let me down but taught me about common courtesy
Several weeks ago, I received an email from The Washington Post.
I was stoked. This was one of the more well-known publications for trending news, and I didn’t expect them to contact me out of the blue.
After reading the email, I realized this wasn’t a writing opportunity like I had hoped for, but rather a journalist writing for The Washington Post who had stumbled across an old Quora post I had written ages ago and wanted to use me as a source.
Regardless, I was excited. But at the same time I was nervous, because usually I have gotten opportunities to write on several major publications before: The Huffington Post, FastCompany, Thought Catalog, etc, but being asked to share my insights?
Perhaps it was my nervousness, or perhaps because I really wanted to do well by the publication, that I took my time. Instead of answering the questions in a few short minutes, I’d spent hours typing up a response, trying to note everything I remembered so that I could be as helpful as I could. We continued to exchange messages back and forth by email. Towards the end, I remember thinking how the whole process had taken me a lot longer than I had expected, but I was still satisfied to been able to contribute to at least a certain extent to the Washington Post.
Then the day came when the story was finally published and the journalist reached out to me:
I sank when I read the story. I felt like a hundred bricks just hit me. The journalist didn’t just “cut some of my thoughts”, he had cut all of them. He omitted everything entirely after telling me that what I had written was super helpful and giving me false hope.
I found it insulting and disrespectful because not only did he waste my time, but he wasn’t honest with me. It doesn’t matter what your profession is or what you’re asking of people, but if you do, it’s basic courtesy to be honest even when the truth may be blunt.
He could’ve simply emailed me back and said, “Tiffany, thanks for what you’ve written but it’s slightly off tangent from the story I had been planning to publish.” While that still would’ve hurt, it would’ve been understandable, and would’ve felt less like a slap to the face.
A part of me however thinks that it’s my fault, that I should’ve known better. After all, a journalist’s job is to reach out to as many sources as they can and publish an article based on what they’ve learned. This was something I already knew; I just didn’t expect to have had my time wasted and be sent a generic, templated email response.
Am I wrong in assuming that journalists should follow basic etiquette and be clear in telling you if your thoughts won’t make it on paper?
Am I too naive in thinking that journalists should actually care about their sources?
Am I too selfish in believing that my time is worth every bit as much as the journalist’s?
Regardless, when you request someone of their time, you’re taking away from them something they can never get back. You’re asking for that person to sacrifice the time they could be using for something else, for self-serving reasons. It doesn’t matter where you work, what your title is, what it is that you’re asking; the moment you ask for someone’s time, it’s your responsibility to not waste it. It’s your responsibility to make it clear what it is that you’re asking. It’s your responsibility to minimize the amount of time you ask from others. At least this way you’d still be able to do your job and at the same time be respectful of other people’s time and effort.
Note: The inference of this post comes from one encounter I’ve had with one journalist from The Washington Post. It doesn’t by any means (at least I hope not) reflect the character of other journalists.
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