Staying Professional When Faced with Bad Assignments

Posted by Jeff Werth
Frustrated by Bad Assignments

Don’t let bad assignments get to you. Photo by dieselbug2007

Bad story assignments happen, and people sometimes need help dealing with them. It might be too vague, not fit for the publication, or just plain stupid in your opinion. You don’t believe in the story and don’t want to do it, yet you still want to be professional.

If you want to keep your job, skipping the story isn’t an option. Tantrums may be entertaining for those watching the show, but they’re certainly not professional and give people a rotten reputation. compiled several suggestions on how to be professional at work in the article, “10 Ways To Be Professional at Work.” These function as general guidelines for working, but they specifically don’t address bad assignments.

Reflecting on my 11+ years in video production, I offer more journalism-related suggestions for dealing with these bad assignments.

Suggestions for Dealing with the Bad Assignments

  1. Clarify the assignment. This should calm your reservations and may even solve your problems in one step. There’s nothing worse than spending a second longer on a task that you’re dreading because you were unclear about it.
  2. Be positive or at least appear to be. Don’t give into the temptation to vent if you can. You don’t have to be happy about the assignment, but you should keep it to yourself. If you must vent, find a confidant – loved one, friend, or anyone else you trust – who will give you a sounding board and will cut you off before you say something you shouldn’t.
  3. Work efficiently and don’t procrastinate. It’s better to face a problem and get past it rather than let it linger. Never let bad assignments stress you.
  4. When it’s done, let it go. People sometimes let the bad stories cling to them, and it poisons their future work. Take a deep breath, and move on the next, hopefully better, challenge.

It’s important to complete every assignment to the best of your abilities, especially the bad ones. Professionals don’t let these experiences affect them and handle each one confidently and quickly. Others respect them, and this respect leads to better jobs in the future. Hopefully, those jobs will have less bad assignments.

I would love to hear some of your suggestions for dealing with bad assignments. What do you do about them? How do you keep them from getting to you?

Photo Credit: Day 15 Frustration by dieselbug2007 under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic


6 responses to “Staying Professional When Faced with Bad Assignments

  1. That’s great advice, Jeff. It can be applied to a number of professions in my opinion. I particularly like the “don’t procrastinate” one. It is easy to keep putting off something you don’t want to do. Then it looms over you for days. Sometimes it even skews all your other projects. It is best just to do it.

    Now let me ask you: do you follow your own advice? Even that pesky #4?

    • It’s can be really difficult to do what you need to do, when you need to do it, especially when you don’t want to do it. That’s probably what separates the professionals from the people who are trying to be professional.

      #4 – Letting the Bad ones go. This hunts me the most. I’m a perfectionist to the core, and I never want to admit that I did something not up to my usual standard. The deadline sometimes keeps you from doing the job as you wanted. It might be simply good, but not great. I guess you strive for perfection, but you’re happy with pretty good.

  2. I think you have compiled some good advice for not only students but also professional. I have encountered multiple assignments that I necessarily haven’t wanted to complete before. But, it is important to always keep going and not give up.

    What I have actually found is that sometimes I start out not liking the assignment, but then doing the work before and during the assignment, I actually develop an interest for the assignment. It is sort of like not judging a book by its cover. You never know how the assignment will end up, and you just have to give it a chance. Often times these types of assignments that you don’t particularly like, are the ones that help you grow and discover the assignments that you love.

    • Thank you, Cecily. I hope my experience will help people deal with some of these situations in the future. They just happen. I like what you said about keeping going and never giving up.

      I think you brought up a wonderful point about opinions changing when you find a little more information. Stories become a lot more interesting when we start to develop a connection to them. It’s amazing what happens when you give something a chance. By the time the story is published, your opinion may have changed completely.

      I have had moments when a project started, and I thought, “Oh boy how are we ever going to do this one?” By the time it’s completed, you become proud of what you did, and you want another challenge to keep the feeling going. Success breeds success.

      This sounds like something you have experienced. Would you share the story, and how your opinion changed from start to finish?

  3. You have some good advice. Regarding an assignment being “stupid” – if you have an idea to make the assignment less “stupid” or more relevant – do you ever offer suggestions, and does the opportunity to make suggestions vary with a freelance or a staff assignment?

    • Dawn, that’s some great questions. I would hope that writers would always get the change to offer suggestions on ideas to improve a story. That’s the whole point of the coaching aspect of editing that we are working on in J70. That doesn’t mean it always happens, but that would be the ideal situation. I would always try to offer suggestions, respectfully. That way, I would know that I tried to say something before a story goes bad.

      The ability to offer suggestions differs from situation to situation. When you’re on a staff, you usually have a closer connection to the person who gave you the assignment, so it should be easier to offer your suggestions. People tend to listen to the people they hired because there is a reason they were hired in the first place, but there are many situations where it’s the easiest to disrespect the people you see every day. You hope your boss has respect for your opinions.

      Freelancers tend to have to take what they are given, but they also have the opportunity to decline jobs as well. They can’t use it very often, or they won’t find work. In many cases, freelancers have greater experience, specialized knowledge and skills, and/or better access than staff. These factors buy the ability to offer more suggestions. I have noticed that some people are more willing to listen to an outsider because it offers a fresh perspective. Again, it goes back to the fact that you are being hired for a reason.

      In either case, it’s probably better to say your piece – respectfully –, so you know that you have done everything you could to help the story succeed.

      Do you have any experiences that you would like to share about this?

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