The Story That Never Got Told. (or: A Tale of Poor Hustle.)

The Beijing scuba guy

“You get a limited number of chances in life to do something really, really big. Take them.” ― Dharmesh Shah

Four years ago, I was in Beijing, reporting from the Olympics for the Rocky Mountain News. It was my first true experience reporting from a foreign country, and it was the Olympics, and the whole thing was pretty surreal.

I was pretty prolific that summer — once the Games began, I was churning out 4-6 blog posts a day. The Games only last two weeks, so I knew I had a limited window of time when the audience cared about what was happening in China. I wrote fast, and I wrote a lot.

There was one story that didn’t end up in the Rocky, though, and it’s my fault that it didn’t.

I’d found a local businessman who taught scuba diving in Beijing. But there was a catch: Beijing’s nowhere near the ocean, and there aren’t many public places to swim in the city. So this man taught his classes in the local aquarium.

It was a damn good story, and I had the photos — like the one above — to match. Best yet, the business owner went to school in Colorado, which gave me a local hook for the Rocky.

But I didn’t want to spend my final couple of days in Beijing writing up a 1,500 word story for the print edition on a scuba diver in China. (1) Instead, I waited — about two weeks. When I finally sent it to my boss at the Rocky, he told me it was too late. Why would readers care about this guy now?

I’ve had stories killed for a number reasons. I’ve had them killed due to bad editors (“Dan, this story on the uncatchable serial robber will be better once the police catch this guy!”) and bad timing (“Sorry, Dan, so and so paper ran a similar piece a year ago.”)

This was the first story that ever died due to a lack of hustle on my end.

It hurt. It wasn’t fun knowing I screwed up a good story because I was too lazy to get my work done on time.

There is a limited window for the work we do. The longer it takes to get the work out into the world, the faster that window closes.

So hustle. Your bosses will appreciate it. Your co-workers and friends will notice it.

And the world will get to see your work. That’s an excellent reward in itself.

  1. A funny aside: I really wanted one more print edition clip from the Rocky. In 2008, having a story in print was still a big deal to me.