Useful feedback

Journalists never get enough feedback on their work and sometimes what they do get isn’t all that useful. What is one supposed to make of comments like: “You need more energy in your standups” or “Your writing is boring”? I’ve seen too many TV reporters respond to that kind of feedback by shouting at the camera or adding cliches, which just leads to more helpful suggestions like: “You need to tone it down.”

Here’s some advice on how to get more useful feedback and what to do with it. First off, you need to ask for the feedback you think you need. If you’re lucky enough to work for someone who schedules feedback sessions, be sure to come prepared. Bring examples of your work and know what questions you want to ask. Are you trying to improve your on-camera delivery? Have you struggled with writing good lead-ins to sound bites?  Ask targeted  questions to get the most productive feedback.

Some news managers only give what you might call “drive by” feedback–a quick comment in passing that doesn’t tell you much. It’s up to you to ask for  specifics. If the boss says you did a good story, ask what he or she really liked about it. But don’t try to turn a two-minute chat into a full-blown critique session. If it sounds like there’s more to talk about, ask for a time to meet privately.

If you’re not getting useful feedback from the boss, find someone else who can help. But as TV producer Randy Tatano points out at TVnewsgrapevine, it’s important to choose wisely.

Critiques must be objective. If the person giving you feedback likes you too much to say anything negative or dislikes you too much to say anything nice…the critique isn’t much help.

Sometimes critiques can be painful, Tatano says, but honest advice should give you something to build on if you’re open to hearing it.


2 Responses

  1. Soliciting feedback is a slippery slope, especially for so many of the inflated egos in this business (those will be the ones looking for self-gratification), but if you are the person being solicited for feedback, try to keep in mind the solicitor is seeking constructive input. This is especially true for younger journalists seeking affirmation and professional growth.

    I always like to start out with telling the person what he or she did well, easing in to some of the things that could be improved upon. I remember to keep in mind that the person has asked for my opinion, so I say things like, “What I saw is…”, rather than something general similar to, “People don’t like…” In other words, stick to your own opinions and try not to speak for the masses.

    Don’t simply offer up what you didn’t care for; deliver genuine suggestions. One of the things I critique the most are standups. Many times they very stagnant and uninteresting, so I will often suggest that the standup be more interactive, that it show relationships (usually physical distance between two or more related objects or actions), have a demonstration that includes a story-related prop, and that the standup have relevance in bridging two separate thoughts within a story. Those are concrete suggestions that won’t leave the person seeking input feeling empty or stick him or her with a negative value on your comments.

    Another suggestion I would give to those seeking input is to find a mentor, someone with experience willing to take a younger professional or student under a wing. Many professional organizations and colleges offer this. You get an objective viewpoint with someone who will eventually get to know your work and be able to see your growth.

    One may also use contest judging criteria as a concrete way of not only critiquing your own work, but also providing some solid ideas on what areas to look at when critiquing the work of others. The National Press Photographers Association is an excellent example of this and provides two different areas that include the technical aspects of the story, and the storytelling itself. I use them occasionally when I feel stuck and can’t quite pinpoint something I didn’t care for.

  2. […] Deborah Potter writes this week about tips to get useful feedback on your work. First off, you need to ask for the feedback you think you need … Bring examples of your work and know what questions you want to ask … Ask targeted  questions to get the most productive feedback. […]

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