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Shared Experiences: Three major realizations

I’ve identified three personal defining career awakenings regarding newsroom management:

1. Early in my career I had the good fortune to work with some fantastic teams consisting of talented journalists who were also wonderful people. So, it was a real eye-opening experience later when I came upon a few work situations with less than ideal journalists, and I also witnessed managers and executives sorely lacking in people skills.

First of all, I realized I had to really work hard to constantly help my employees improve, and to make sure they knew what was expected of them.

In addition, I began to understand that I had made some of the same management mistakes earlier in my career that I was beginning to witness. I had no idea that I had previously made these mistakes because I had not been trained as a manager — I was playing a role, merely portraying a manager. This realization helped me learn that I needed to think about how I came across to my employees.

The key, I found, was to stop trying to showcase my own abilities and begin sincerely trying to coach and help my staff to improve. The result was a general feeling of trust between myself and my employees, a better work atmosphere and a quantifiable amount of progress.

2. Many times I witnessed — and occasionally became drawn in to — the practice of kissing up to the higher-ups. But I had no idea how bad things could get until I was employed by a large newspaper where most of the staff spent most of its time jostling for position in a never-ending game of office politics. I was amazed at the blatant way these talented and well-trained professionals fell over each other in order to brown-nose the managers and execs. There was a huge amount of wasted effort spent on this game and nearly zero effort spent improving the product.

The disastrous results of this atmosphere made such an appalling impression that I was motivated to lead my staff in the opposite direction, and I still make it a point to avoid the trap to this day.

It’s simple: put all your effort into improving your team’s operations and its products, and avoid getting caught in the office politics trap. It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, this is really what you were hired for; you weren’t hired to be your superior’s yes-man or yes-woman.

Your sincere effort will not only bring positive results for the company, but will create a positive reputation for you and your team. You will feel positive about your work and you will enjoy a reputation as a straightforward and trusted leader. You will find it will earn a bit more leverage for you and your department when you need something, or when important company-wide decisions are made (such as cutbacks) — when push comes to shove.

3. I once attended a roundtable discussion involving the top editors from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee. These newsroom leaders all shared one main dilemma that dominated the conversation: they could not get their copy desk staff to communicate effectively with their reporters. It seemed the vibe was leaning more toward outright hostility.

If these guys couldn’t get their people working together, then who could?

I came away with the definite impression that we all share similar problems in news management, no matter how large or small our departments might be.

Yes, the news business is very challenging, but you’re not alone. This site was created to help newsroom leaders learn from others and share their experiences. Please take a look around. Nominate someone as a featured leader, send in photos or a description of your newsroom configuration, contribute an article about your own management experiences or follow us on social media, if you like. I hope you find something helpful along the way.

John Gregory

Content director and publisher

Newsroom Leader

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