Butch Ward


Since joining Poynter in 2005, Butch has had the chance to share with hundreds of journalists the wisdom he first heard from a Wharton professor back in 1994 -- when most newsrooms hadn't heard of the Web. "From this day on," the professor told the seminar on managing change, "you will find nothing in your professional lives but white water." Helping journalists cope -- maybe even thrive -- in times of constant change has become the common aspiration of Butch's seminars.


Enough dieting: Try this midyear resolution to improve your leadership

It's time for a check up on your New Year's resolutions. (Flickr photo by Jeff Golden)

It’s time for a check up on your New Year’s resolutions. (Flickr photo by Jeff Golden)

Hard to believe, but this week marks the beginning of the second half of 2015. Six months have passed since many of us resolved to improve ourselves in some way—eat smarter, exercise regularly, spend more time with the family, stop reading email 24/7.

How are you doing with all that?

Yeah, me too. Well, our intentions were good.

So let’s try again. And while it might not be traditional to add resolutions at the halfway mark, let me suggest one that could help you be a better manager, almost overnight.

Make fewer assumptions.

It’s ironic, I know, but journalists (whose work seeks to challenge assumptions with facts) are no different from other professionals when it comes to making assumptions about all manner of things. Read more


Leaders, want to increase the impact of your decisions? Shoot for ‘two-fers’

(Image created by Deposit Photo)

(Image created by Deposit Photo)

The other day I was in the supermarket, critiquing the blueberries, when I noticed the price: buy 1 pint, get 1 pint free.

That’s what I call a “two-fer” — two for the price of one. (I bought two pints.)

Later I stopped by the local convenience store for coffee and another sign caught my eye: buy any breakfast sandwich and get the second free.

Another two-fer. (In an unusual show of restraint, I paid for the coffee and fled.)

The whole “two-fer” thing got me thinking about some of the best leaders I’ve known and how they regularly turn the fruits of one good decision into something more – often something even more important.

They know how to get two-fers. Read more


Tips to make you a better storyteller

One of the few regrets I have in my life is taking up golf without first taking lessons. Lugging my dad’s rusty clubs to the nine-hole course at Carroll Park, I simply started swinging exactly as Arnold Palmer did on TV. Or so I thought.

Decades of hooks, slices and bad habits followed.

Occasionally I’ve tried to nudge my score south of 100 by taking 30 minutes of instruction from a pro. That has taught me another lesson: don’t try to learn too much at once. Because when I’m standing over the ball, preparing to hit, my head is filled with so many do’s and don’ts that I fail to do any of them well.

writing_Depositphotos_9491294_xsWriting tips can have the same paralyzing effect. No matter how good they are, we try to incorporate too many at once. Read more


How to find details that make a powerful story

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy as they arrive at Love Field in Dallas in 1963. (AP Photo/National Archives via Jimmy Carter Library and Museum)

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy as they arrive at Love Field in Dallas in 1963. (AP Photo/National Archives via Jimmy Carter Library and Museum)

I was 11 years old on the November Friday when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Does anyone else remember what Jackie Kennedy was wearing that day?

A pink suit. Not an important detail at first glance, except that this designer suit bore the bloodstains left behind after the wounded president collapsed into his wife’s lap. When Mrs. Kennedy refused to change her clothes until she returned to the White House the following morning, the suit took its place among America’s most tragic symbols. I remember the picture of Mrs. Kennedy still wearing the suit as she stood with Bobby Kennedy, her hand in his, behind the hearse bearing her dead husband. Read more


Eight lessons learned from a former journalist’s job search

As the AARP solicitations in my mailbox arrive with ever-increasing frequency, I am reminded of something a friend once told me about our aging: “When the rock starts rolling downhill, it picks up speed.”


Next month I’ll mark my 10th anniversary as a member of Poynter’s faculty, and in addition to wondering where that decade went (and, by the way, when did Paul McCartney get to be 72?), I find myself thinking about how this gig has fit into the journey we call a career.

My resume: Journalist, 27 years. VP of Communications, 3 years; journalism teacher, 10 years.

The jobs are, in many ways, very different. But each one gave me the opportunity to try something new, to learn from talented and, often, inspirational people, and to contribute something I care about passionately: giving people the information and meaning they need to live better lives. Read more

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Leaders change lives, thanks Jim Mutscheller

JimMutscheller-300It was April of 1973, and I was about to spend my last summer as a college student water-proofing basements.

An English major about to enter my senior year, I only recently had decided I might like to work for a newspaper, but my applications for internships at Baltimore’s dailies – the Sunpapers and The News American – had been rejected.

A summer of digging in wet basements awaited.

Then I took a ride on an elevator with the former pro football player.

Jim Mutscheller had just spoken at a Notre Dame Club of Maryland luncheon at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. A graduate of ND in 1952, he had gone on to play tight end for the Baltimore Colts—and Number 84 had become a hero on my team of boyhood heroes. Read more


Here’s what journalists miss when they don’t leave the office

Today let us pay tribute to reporters who, in their quest for a good daily story, boldly defy the Production gods and do the unthinkable: Hang up the telephone and leave the office.

Granted, doing a “phoner” often seems like the only recourse when your responsibilities for the day include preparing a story (or two or more) for multiple platforms, posting to social media, and any number of other special projects.

But rare is the story done by phone that successfully transports the viewer or reader to that place where they actually can experience something.

Joy. Pain. Anxiety. Relief.

The stories I remember best created an opportunity for me to experience an emotion, a realization, a sense that I was there. And the reporters who created those opportunities had one thing in common: they were there. Read more

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A daily story about a car theft that reminds us why journalism matters

The past few weeks have not been much of an upper for those tracking the health of the news business. More layoffs. New (and increasingly meager) buyouts. And the downsizing strategy that promises to grow ever more popular back at Corporate:

All staffers must reapply for their jobs.

Only the delusional suggest this is a cycle from which we will emerge. Increasingly, editors know this is their reality:

I have fewer people this year than last, and I’ll have fewer still next year.

I remember feeling like this about 15 years ago when my newsroom in Philadelphia was in the midst of its latest “right-sizing.” Looking for a way to recharge my batteries, I asked 12 of my colleagues to join me for lunch and bring stories that reminded them why they did journalism. Read more


A call for really good daily stories

Daily news concept.Earlier this month I offered some ideas for how journalists can produce better daily stories.

The need is obvious. Thanks to the production demands confronting understaffed newsrooms, reporters and editors are increasingly favoring stories that can be done in a day (or less.)

But that doesn’t mean those stories need to be thin, predictable or boring. They don’t have to be kiss-offs.

Daily stories can be good stories. Sometimes, they can be great stories.

I’d like you to send me a daily story that you’re proud of.

Send me a daily story that you took beyond the routine. Maybe you elevated a straightforward assignment with a great interview, a vivid scene or strong character development. Maybe you offered your audience thoughtful analysis of an important issue. Read more

Fast Food Restaurant

Three ways to serve up better dailies

Back when I was doing my communications gig for Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, I received a phone call one morning from a reporter who was playing catch-up on a new state insurance regulation.

“I’ll be happy to explain it to you,” I said, “but be patient. It’s a little involved.”

About two minutes into my explanation, the reporter interrupted me.

“That’s okay,” he said. “That’s way too complicated. I’ll get something else for tomorrow.”

Another story falls victim to media bias.

No, not the liberal political bias that journalists so often are accused of having. This was another, perhaps more disturbing bias. It’s called:Production Bias.

Simply defined, Production Bias holds that if a story can’t be done in a day, we won’t do it. Read more

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