The Joy of Rejection in Journalism

2 Dec

Journalism Rejection

When I was 16, I was dumped by my then-boyfriend via text message. This was not just any text message. It was a three-part text message, in which parts one and three arrived promptly, but part two, which was, incidentally, the most important part of the sorry texts (it said why I was getting dumped, but I can’t remember his reasoning now) arrived three hours later. I was completely crushed at the time, and while I can laugh about the entire situation now (dumped via text message? I mean, really?) my work as a journalist had re-acquainted me with the sometimes harsh realities of rejection.

I’m now much older, and a little bit wiser than I was back then, but now I work in journalism, and rejection is part of the job description. Because freelance journalists spent most (read all) of their time pitching to editors, and perhaps even applying for other journalism jobs, they will have had their pitches and applications rejected a lot more than you think they might. Whether a journalist is established in their field or not, they will still get their ideas and work rejected by editors on a weekly, or perhaps even a daily basis.

Having a pitch rejected can at first feel like the end of the world; you’ve worked hard on an idea, or an application, sourced the right publication and pitched your idea for an article in a clear and professional way. Or in the case of applying for a job, provided lots of relevant information and previous work in the job application. However, having a pitch rejected is most definitely not the end of the world, and once it happens to you a few more times, it gets easier. I’m not saying that you are going to develop a rhino skin overnight, but remember that rejection is something that unites a lot of industries, from journalism, to writing, to design, to acting, dancing, music and much, much more.

So how do you deal with rejection? The writer and journalist, Kirsty Logan, wrote a few choice words about having her work rejected in her IdeasTap column in the summer, and they are words that I have decided to live by. I would highly recommend reading her piece and her other work if you get the chance, but the crux of her argument is this; rejection in the writing industry is inevitable, so we should learn to embrace it, and see it as an indicator that we are seizing relevant opportunities.

To Kirsty’s words of wisdom, I would add the following advice:

  • It’s not you that they are rejecting

Try not to take the rejection personally; the editor you are pitching or applying to probably doesn’t know you. They are only judging your writing, not your character.

  • All editors are different

You could work with one editor that loves your voice, your work and agrees with everything you have to say. Then you could work with one that just isn’t that into your writing style.

  • There wasn’t a space for your story

Even if you pitch the right publication or editor, your story might just not suit them at that time. They could even have run a similar story recently, and don’t want to revisit the subject. Don’t panic, this happens more than you might think.

  • Ask for feedback – if you got a response

Most editors will give you a reason why they didn’t commission you, or why they didn’t invite you for an interview, but if they don’t, ask for feedback, especially if you have applied for a job.

However, some publications don’t respond to job applicants, who could benefit from feedback on their application. But when they do, it can be invaluable, in fact, here’s an example of when I did ask for feedback on two separate job applications, one year apart, for the same magazine.

Last year I applied for the role of Assistant Editor at an Edinburgh Fringe publication that I had written for previously in 2010. I didn’t get the job, but when the editor of the publication emailed me to let me know, I responded and asked if they had any writing jobs available. They did, and I built up a rapport with both the editor and assistant editor, and I ended up writing for them, plus taking on extra commissions when they asked.

This year, I applied to write for the same Edinburgh Fringe publication, and because of the amount of work I put in the year before, I was hopeful that I would get more work with them. However, the people I had worked with previously were no longer working there, meaning that the editorial team were almost all brand new.

My application was refused this year, and while the new editor was very polite in all correspondence, when I asked for feedback, they said that I needed to “…build up my writing portfolio, as that was what we are looking for.” Considering my past work for the publication, my existing work within the Scottish theatre community and the fact that this was the fourth Edinburgh Festival Fringe I was going to review at, this rejection was tough – I had a very strong portfolio. I didn’t respond to the editor, because they had made up their mind that I wouldn’t be writing for them this year. But like that ex that dumped me by text message, this is another experience to learn from – not all editors like my writing style, and that’s ok.

So, to all you young creative types, I say this: we’ve all faced rejection, we will continue to face rejection, the trick is how to deal with it; how to learn to roll with the punches and to keep persevering.

One Response to “The Joy of Rejection in Journalism”


  1. Trash On Disappointment | The Taylor Trash - March 5, 2013

    […] point in your journalism career, so learn to roll with the punches. A few months ago, I wrote about rejection in journalism, something which even the best journalists in the world admit happens to them too. Don’t […]

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