Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand
“I look at your work and the intern’s, and I cannot see the difference between the two,” my former editor said.
Those were the last words I wanted to hear, especially since I had worked hard to be where I was. At that point, I had clocked in four years of working experience as a reporter, three of which was spent in a community newsroom writing about 100th birthdays and lost pets, but felt it was time to experience life as a hard news reporter.
I have always enjoyed reading and writing, so choosing a career in writing was an easy choice for me. By the time I was 12, I had my heart set on being a journalist. I started by writing short stories for my dad to read, and later wrote lengthy letters to pen-pals and friends. Writing got me through horrible days. It is my therapy, and I live for it.
When I was in high school, I chose journalism and English as two of my core subjects. I wrote everything from book reviews to reports on animal abuse for my school newspaper—sadly, only one article ever made it to my school’s newspaper. However, I was undeterred, and a story I read in a Times’ magazine on the treatment of women under the Taliban regime further cemented my desire to be a reporter. I wanted to shine a light on social injustices and human sufferings.
It was a journalism scholarship, with a year’s study and two years’ work in a newsroom, that secured my chance to be a reporter (my parents had wanted me to an accountant). I fastidiously went through the Pulitzer Prize list, reading award-winning stories, picturing myself covering in-depth stories for a big news organization such as the BBC, The Washington Post or The New York Times.
Therefore, once I had done about three years in a community newsroom, I decided if I were to one day report stories worthy of a prize, I’d have to move into a daily news environment.
When I first accepted the job in a daily news environment, I harbored hopes of being coached by senior reporters. I imagined my name listed on the annual media awards list for best feature story or best breaking news. I pictured covering stories on poverty, hunger, and struggles of the everyday person. I tacked the front page of The New York Times to my bedroom wall to keep my vision before me.
However, nothing like that came to pass. Instead, working life turned into a waking nightmare of painful meetings with my editors, battered self-confidence, and long evenings crying in cell group or alone in bed. Between being told that I wasn’t suited for a bigger newsroom (even though I thought I’d been doing a decent job covering different news stories), to being reprimanded for apparently overstepping a boundary in the way I handled a particular inquiry, to having all my grammatical or spelling mistakes magnified, I felt like a constant failure.
And any hope I had left was crushed that afternoon when my editor claimed my work was barely distinguishable from someone who wasn’t even a fully-fledged professional. Adding insult to injury, he also said I had only been hired to fill in the lack of ethnic minorities in the newsroom. It was as though the hard work I put in for other stories were forgotten.
I left his office with my tail between my legs, my emotions drained and my spirit broken.
Unwilling to let my superiors and my circumstances get the better of me, I hung on a little longer. It wasn’t until another reporter complained to my chief reporter about how she had to correct my mistakes on a daily basis that I realized I had to leave. What she was claiming was untrue and had the potential to damage my career.
By the time I resigned, I was completely broken and downtrodden. I swore I would never write again, and ignored all emails when a Christian organisation emailed to ask if I would contribute my writing skills.
I went into hiding for months, and refused to go near anything that resembled writing.
However, I was forced out of my hiding place when I attended my church’s annual leadership event. An American pastor, John Bevere, was the guest speaker.
He spoke on the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), about a master who had entrusted his servants with his property, and each were given talents according to their ability. While some of the servants used their talents wisely, one decided he would hide his. Needless to say, his master was very unhappy when he realised what his servant had done.
And what Pastor Bevere said next had me quaking: the master scolded the servant for being wicked, and took away his talent.
My heart went cold and I felt God’s voice booming right at me, saying the gift would not be returned once it was taken. I did not want to show up on Judgment Day only to have God tell me off for being a lazy, wicked servant. I promised God that I would no longer hide my gift.
The end of the sermon was the start of my venture back into writing. I emailed the Christian organization to say I’d be happy to contribute, and also contacted another organization to see how I could go about volunteering my writing skills.
Writing again has helped me overcome my insecurities of a failed writer. I was stunned when the first article I wrote for one of the organizations, a short 500-word piece, was declared ready to publish, without too many edits. Buoyed by the encouragement, I turned in my second piece, and by the third, was invited to join their panel of volunteer writers. I was especially delighted when my articles were translated to different languages for the organization’s various international sites. When I was a reporter, my sphere of influence was restricted to my local area, but I am now able to reach out to people in different countries.
While it’s not always easy giving up my weekends and evenings to write, I think of my articles touching the lives of readers who may be in need of a word of encouragement. Friends, even non-Christians, who read my articles online often said they felt they could relate my story, and a giant smile would spread across my face. It has also shown me that God is not done with my writing. While my journalism career may have gone up in smoke, God is able to use what is broken for His purpose.
My name may never be in the limelight. I may never win a Pulitzer Prize or any prestigious media awards, and I may never earn copious amounts of money as a writer. But I remind myself that I have been tasked by God to write and obeying Him carries a significance greater than any prize on earth.