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.


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Got writer’s block? 14 writers share how they fight the blank screen

A few weeks ago I wrote about my bout with writer’s block, and how I needed a good “slap” to get over it. That got me thinking: how do other writers get over those moments (or hours) when the blank screen is so imposing?
So I asked for advice from some very good writers whose work appears in print, broadcast and online.

You’ll see that in addition to sharing a gift, they also share an understanding that writing well is the product of discipline and hard work.

I hope their advice helps you the next time the words won’t come. Most of all, I hope they inspire you to write.

Steve Hartman, Correspondent, CBS News

Butch sent me an email asking me to share my thoughts about writer’s block. … Read more

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Brady: Local coverage should involve communities – and help them improve

In the weeks after Jim Brady announced plans to launch brother.ly, a local news web site in Philadelphia, he and Poynter’s Butch Ward had an email conversation about Brady’s previous experiences with guiding digital newsrooms.

Ward: More than a decade later, have you changed your thinking in any significant way about local news coverage in the digital age? How about your thinking on how to build a financially successful news business? 

Brady: I think the biggest change in my thinking has been about the overall role of a local news organization. I used to be a believer in staying out of the fray, and just reporting on what was happening and stopping there. But I now think news organizations need to expand their thinking there. I’m not suggesting that papers drop objectivity in reporting; I still believe in that.… Read more

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Manager alert: pay attention to your best people

For the better part of the past two weeks, I needed a good slapping.

I don’t mean that literally, though some of the people in my life might wish I did. What I needed was someone to snap me out of the insecure funk I get in from time to time.

I had writer’s block.

Do you ever get it? Ideas that seem so clear in my brain get hijacked and disappear somewhere en route to the keyboard. I start a sentence, delete it, start another and delete that, too. I get up and walk the dog, stare some more at the laptop, send out Facebook birthday wishes, stare at the laptop, get a cup of coffee…

Before long, my insecurities win. I am convinced I will never write again.… Read more

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Manager, Interrupted: How to trade all of that multi-tasking for some real focus

Multitasking at work. (Flickr Photo by Jonathan Blundell/ https://flic.kr/p/7bnUSk)

It’s 3:00 p.m. You’re sitting at your desk, trying to edit and file to the web the six paragraphs on your computer screen, a breaking account of the fire that has reduced downtown traffic to a crawl.

Your phone rings. The reporter at the fire wants to add a sentence about a new detour. You take the information and add it. Back to editing. Your mobile phone buzzes. It’s a news alert: the mayor has decided not to seek reelection. Then the phone rings. The city government reporter has the news about the mayor. Tweet it, you tell her, then file three paragraphs for the web and call back to discuss a follow-up. You forward the news alert to the news and web desks to let them know what’s coming.… Read more

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Slow down and read this: 6 ideas for making better decisions

Lessons in management, like all good stories, pop up almost anywhere.

Case in point: a recent episode of “Restaurant Impossible,” the weekly effort by the Food Network’s Robert Irvine to “save a failing restaurant” in just 48 hours.

Having seen many of the show’s nearly 100 episodes, I can tell you that in almost every case, poor management contributes to the troubled restaurant’s struggles. In this particular episode, the restaurant’s manager had alienated the staff to the point of near mutiny. Enter Irvine with his body-builder physique, skin-tight polo shirts, brutal critiques and renovation fund of $10,000.

He quickly recognized the manager as an issue and, shall we say, “persuaded”  her to change her management style. In a reflective moment, she described her epiphany:

“I was decisive,” she said, “but ineffective.”

Decisive but ineffective.… Read more

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Managing by telephone? 10 ideas for a better conference call

How can I manage people I cannot see?

That’s a question I get from a good number of managers who work with remote staff and freelancers and communicate with them via Skype, Google Hangouts, email, online chats and, yes, the telephone.

It’s clear from what the managers ask that despite the innovations in communication technology, it remains challenging to communicate effectively with people who work in another location.

I remember the challenge well. In my first assigning desk job at The Philadelphia Inquirer, I coordinated the paper’s coverage of New Jersey, and learned a lot about casino gambling, cranberry bogs, Superfund toxic waste sites and corrupt politicians. Because I was in Philadelphia and most of my staff worked in bureaus located in Trenton and points south, I also learned a lot about managing by telephone.… Read more

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Maybe your staff can handle criticism, but are they learning anything?

How well do you handle criticism?

I ask because in Poynter’s new report, “Core Skills for the Future of Journalism,” no multimedia skill received as many votes from professionals, academics, students and independent journalists as this one:

“Handle Criticism Well.”

Must be pretty important, eh?

Permit me to suggest why many respondents rated this “skill’ in the top one-third of their survey. At a time when most organizations are under-resourced and overextended, many managers would rather deal with an outbreak of head lice than with staffers who respond to criticism with anything short of compliance.

That’s what I often hear from newsroom managers, and I empathize with their challenges. But let me also suggest that staffers who roll over when critiqued are not the staffers you want aggressively pursuing journalism, often against great odds, in your community.… Read more

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A speedometer with needle racing to Improvement, past the words problem, planning and process, symbolizing the need to implement change to improve a situation._Depositphotos

Managers, make ‘we can be better’ more than empty words

So today I’m thinking about Casey Stengel and Jesus.

Why? Well, in my life, it’s the time of year for two really important six-week seasons: spring training and Lent.

Both are times devoted to preparation. Both are opportunities for fresh starts. And both give those who take part a chance to make an important change — whether it be their batting stance or their approach to life.

Spring training is the time when major league baseball players gather in the warm climes of Florida and Arizona to prepare for another summer on the diamond. Lent, which Christians observe in preparation for Easter, recalls the 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the desert prior to beginning his public life of teaching and good works.

Yes, the two seasons have very different goals: One aims to produce a winning baseball team and the other to transform lives.… Read more

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Advice from an introvert: It’s time to speak up

I’m an introvert.

A lot of folks are surprised to hear me say that. We’ve seen you teach, they say.

And you were a managing editor.

And you coordinated media relations for a big health-insurance company.

That’s all true. I also can work a crowd, make conversation with people I don’t know, even seize the microphone if that’s what the occasion demands.

But sometimes, despite my best efforts, my introversion takes over.

Like during a faculty meeting I attended recently.

We were discussing, over a lunch of pizza and salad, how we teach ethics. Several of my colleagues jumped right in, taking positions, arguing points, challenging each other. The conversation was lively, sometimes intense.

I popped open another Diet Coke.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk.… Read more

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News managers: Think like great writers, focus on the right details

Sometimes sadness is like a drug that won’t let go.

On the morning after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in New York with a needle in his arm, I spent several hours reading news stories, appreciations and old profiles written during his remarkable stage and film career.

With each story that I opened, I promised myself this one would be the last, that it was time to get to work on this column about leadership. Then I read another, and another, unable to shake my need to understand a man I had met in a hundred different ways, yet never really at all.

In story after story, I found myself looking for details — telling details — the ones that good storytellers use to build compelling characters like the Lomans and Capotes that Hoffman played.… Read more

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