Column: I’m a journalist and I hate approaching strangers


Anxiety. It’s something that many students, myself included, deal with. Studying in a field that requires me to push myself out of my comfort zone to get what I need to complete my work sometimes feels impossible to me.

Although journalism has taught me a lot of great things during my time in college, it also taught me that this is not the right career for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people. I even like conducting interviews. But when I have to approach strangers at events and get them to talk to me for something I’m writing, my social anxiety spikes. I freeze up.

I sometimes can’t remember why I decided to approach them in the first place.  Or I can never remember the questions I wrote down beforehand. Afterwards, I never feel like I got everything I needed. Throughout it all, anxiety clouded my judgement.

I’ve been told these types of interviews can help you break free from your anxiety and become a stronger, more confident journalist. Maybe. But for me, these types of interviews have the exact opposite effect on me.

Despite the realization that journalism is not the cure for my anxiety, I don’t want to discourage others from pursuing it if that’s their passion. If you have anxiety now, maybe a journalism career will be the cure for your anxiety.

But if, like me, you just need to push through it, I’ve got some tips. Here’s how I wrangle my social anxiety in order to cover an event:

  1. Start off by taking pictures and maybe taking some notes about what the place looks like, how many people are there, if it’s a big event you can approach organizers and ask what previous attendance records have been etc.
  2. To help me with my icebreaker skills, I write down all of my questions beforehand. I usually know what the focus of the event I’m covering is, so I practice them until I can almost recite them by heart. It’s kind of like practicing for a job interview but this time I’m the interviewer.
  3. If you can, leave the event – and return again with a new strategy. This is what I did when I covered a Ribfest event for a newspaper I worked at last summer. The first day of Ribfest I felt so overwhelmed that I actually got into my car and left the event early without sufficient information to write a story. This was all because I dreaded interrupting people who were just trying to enjoy their ribs and the atmosphere. Thankfully it was a four-day event so I went back the next day and instead focused on interviewing people at concession stands or display booths – people who would likely benefit most from having their names featured in the paper. Many of them were willing to speak with me. I felt much better about myself.

For some people though, no matter how much they prepare they just aren’t the best at conducting streeter interviews. That’s completely okay.

The best way to combat that fear? Just not do it.

No journalist is perfect and no two journalists are the same. Some are talkers, some are listeners and writers and some are somewhere in between.

What I have learned studying journalism is never try to force yourself to do something you absolutely hate. Because if you do you won’t be happy. But there is a solution to everything.

I promise, you’ll find yours.


Related posts