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Young but respectable

Last week, a school board members introduced me to another community member as, “This is Meranda Watling, she’s with the newspaper.”

The woman said, “Oh the Exponent!” And I shot back — probably a little too quickly — “No, the Journal & Courier.” I think she thought I was offended, and I was just a little. Though, I take student media more seriously than most people, so I don’t know why I was so much.

I think I still feel I have something (OK a lot of something) to prove, and I guess that’s normal right. To feel inadequate at times, especially in the beginning?

There was a post in the journalists community at LiveJournal the other day about things you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out. And one of the comments was, “You will feel like you suck every single day for at least six months.” I was so relieved to realize it’s not just me.

I do have my moments where I surprise myself or when sources tell me I’m doing a good job or they enjoy my work. A few weeks back, a teacher randomly told me I was “doing an exceptional job” and that the paper had been needing someone like me for a long time. I don’t take compliments well, and usually just laugh and say, “Well, I try.” But honestly? Stuff like that makes me smile for a whole day, maybe even a week. I don’t know if it’s normal or if they’d say it to everyone, but every time it happens, it makes my day because I feel like my hard work actually makes a difference to at least that person that day.

After the “No, the J&C” comment, the woman commented, “oh, well, I just assumed, you look so young.” And then I realized she was entirely right. I don’t just look young, I am young. Most people my age are still in college, in which case I probably would be reporting for the Exponent (Purdue’s paper). I forget that. Though I get a lot of “you sound young” or “look so young” and I have to explain, well, yeah, I’m 21.

There are people who say, “she’s only 21, what does she know?” And one person in particular who calls me “kiddo.” (Note to anyone who has a young person in their office: Do not do this. It’s demeaning, and it only serves to undermine the experience I do have, which if you bothered to look or ask, you would see is nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering my age.) It’s crazy, because I work as hard if not harder than most of them. If anything my age is a great asset because I can do the hard-nosed, shoe-leather reporting, but I also have no trouble navigating new media or talking to students on their level.

I work for every bit of respect because I am new here, and then double because I am young. I haven’t established that track record yet. I’m definitely still proving myself, not just to them but to me. This is true of my friends across other media outlets with whom I’ve discussed this.

You don’t have to cut me, or other young people like me, slack. We don’t need it or want it because it won’t make us any better. Yeah, we didn’t come out of j-school ready for a Pulitzer, but most of us did come out ready to do good journalism, in multiple platforms, without delusions of grandeur about this industry and the changing media landscape. We came ready to work hard and make a difference. Regardless of my age, I applied for and was hired for this job. As long as I’m doing it well, whether I’m 21 or 41, I should still get the same respect.

6 Responses to “Young but respectable”

  1. Tara Pringle Says:

    Um, yeah, people calling you kiddo? Happens to me ALL THE TIME. Most memorable occasion? During labor. My doctor came in and said, “Are you ready to have this baby, kiddo?” Ugh. I was too preoccupied to object, as you can probably imagine.

  2. Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » Age goes both ways Says:

    […] This is a follow-up to my “young but respectable” post earlier this week, when I lamented the fact that everyone feels the need to tell me I look, sound or am young. […]

  3. Jaclyn Says:

    I’m going to say something that will make you hate me: “Kiddo” wouldn’t bother me at all. Not even a little. I love that I’m one of the youngest people in my newsroom (only one full-timers is younger than I), and I love that I do just as much work as people who’ve been here for 25+ years. I like to think that the fact that I’m younger makes it cooler. But maybe that’s just me.

    I did an interview once and the man told me that when his wife saw my mug shot in the paper, she asked, “What is she? 12?” I laughed my butt off. Because when people see you’re young, they expect you to be unprofessional. When you’re not, they are pleasantly surprised, and they like you. But they still see you as young, and, for whatever reason, are more likely to open up.

    Eat it up, my dear. Because while you’re complaining that people view you as a kid, I’m sure your boss or coworkers are complaining that people view them as old gray-haireds. And I’m willing to bet it’s MUCH better to be in your shoes :)

  4. Meranda Says:

    Jaclyn — I don’t so much mind people viewing me as younger as I mind them not viewing me as professional. I am proud of where I am and what I have accomplished, especially given my age. But my age presents another hurdle to jump, which I gladly do. The phrase kiddo just puts me on edge because it implies that what I’ve accomplished is less because I am so young. It’s not; if anything, it’s more.

    And it’s funny what you say about the long-time employees. I’m the youngest of a mostly young newsroom (there’s another guy a month and a half older than me who started here about a month before me). We have some discussion about age/generational differences once a week. Yesterday it was about popped collars and how my editor’s generation championed the trend the first time around. ;)

  5. Howard Owens Says:

    Compliments: Learn to say, “Thank you. That’s very kind.” Even if you feel the embarrassed, or that the compliment isn’t deserved. I used to be like you in this regard, but there is something empowering about accepting a compliment for what its worth. Use that to your advantage.

    Kiddo: If you weren’t respected, people wouldn’t use enduring nicknames. Take “kiddo” as “I like you and I think you have potential — you’re going to be a good one.”

    There is no substitute for experience. That’s a statement you can’t even fully grasp without experience. I remember I got turned down for a job on the San Diego Evening Tribune’s editorial desk because “I didn’t have enough grey hair.” I was a good enough writer and smart enough, but the lack of experience, I now see, made my insights far to shallow to suit their needs. As I’ve progressed in my career and moved higher up, I can see every day how experience plays a role in helping me do my job. It isn’t just enough to know what I know because I learned something in a book or from a teacher or mentor — being able to see situations or decisions through the context of experience is a whole other level of thinking.

    Go to YouTube and look up Ira Glass … he has a series of videos about making video .. but much of what he says applies to any creative pursuit (which includes newspaper reporting).

    You’re obviously good and smart. Let your work speak for itself, accept compliments, and don’t worry about being seen as young … us older folk are only jealous, anyway.

  6. Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » Realistic expectations better than dashed hopes Says:

    […] When I graduated, I knew I could and would do amazing journalism no matter where I landed. But I’ve always felt there is a lot you can learn only by doing, so in truth, I wasn’t ready for the big leagues. Sure I want to work at the top someday. But I want to be sure I have a solid foundation. As Howard Owens posted in reply to an earlier blog post: “There is no substitute for experience. That’s a statement you can’t even fully grasp without experience.” […]