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.


‘I can’t ever unsee that:’ Which unforgettable moments should a journalist choose to cover?

A version of this presentation opened the 11th annual Poynter-Kent State University Media Ethics Workshop. The subject of this year’s workshop, held on Sept. 17, was Journalism and Trauma. 

Why are we here today?

We’re here today because the body of a 3-year-old Syrian child washed ashore on a Turkish beach, and journalists had to decide what to do with the photographs.

We’re here today because a Roanoke TV reporter and photographer were shot to death while reporting live during the station’s morning show, and journalists had to decide what to do with the video.

We’re here today because a bomb killed 20 people during rush hour outside a Bangkok shrine, and journalists had to decide what to do with live-streamed video of the carnage. Read more


The challenge no manager wants: Leading an organization through its grief

Screen shot, WDBJ

Jeff Marks, the General Manager of WDBJ, and anchor Kimberly McBroom (Screen shot, WDBJ)

No manager gets out of bed in the morning expecting to have two of his staffers murdered.

By a former station employee.

On live TV.

But that’s what happened to Jeff Marks, the General Manager of WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. In the seconds it took for a man with a gun to fatally shoot a reporter and photographer, Marks’ role changed. Suddenly a man responsible for running his company’s broadcast business was called upon to lead an organization through a nightmare.

It is a job without a ready-made script. There are lots of expert suggestions, but ultimately, the leader has to choose.

In the hours that followed, Marks went on the air to announce the deaths of reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward. Read more


Managers, use that ‘You’re a Fraud’ voice in your head to become a better leader

Did anyone out there wake up this morning convinced that today was “The Day?”

The day they discovered you don’t know what you’re talking about?

I did.

Fact is, I wake up on many mornings feeling that way. And I’m not alone. Whenever I ask a group of managers whether they ever start their day with a crisis of confidence, they overwhelmingly say yes.

And when I ask them what they would most like to take home from the seminar or workshop, increasing numbers of them — no matter how experienced they are — say they would like to be more confident.

Ah, insecurity. It isn’t enough that managers have to deal, every day, with unpredictable news developments and wave after wave of change. They also have to deal with that little voice inside their heads that say, “You’re going to mess this up.”

One way to deal with the fear is to just live with it, taking comfort that many creative people suffer from insecurity. Read more


9 ways to make your feedback more effective

It's not just about giving feedback, it's how you give the feedback. (Flickr photo by Greg Anderson Photography)

It’s not just about giving feedback, it’s how you give the feedback. (Flickr photo by Greg Anderson Photography)

Newsroom managers who come to Poynter often return home with a new determination: To give their staffs more feedback.

That’s a good thing, because feedback happens to be what their staffs need most from them. Positive or negative, feedback is the fuel that we all need to improve our work.

But as with so many worthy resolutions, the secret to success lies in the execution.

A colleague recently told me a story about delivering feedback to someone who turned out not to be receptive. The meeting did not go well. That got me thinking about how many factors can influence the way our feedback is heard and responded to — and how many of those factors we can control. Read more


Managers, here are 5 expectations your boss has for you (and doesn’t always talk about)

Flickr photo by thinkpanama

Flickr photo by thinkpanama

On the day you accepted your manager’s job, you and your boss almost certainly had a talk. The subject: What the boss expects from you.

No matter how good that initial talk was, however, it might have failed to provide you with the road map you need to succeed. And that’s true for two reasons:

  • Too many bosses fail to update their expectations on a regular basis.
  • And second, the boss often fails to mention—or adequately stress—some expectations that are very important.

The failure-to-update problem is critical. (Here’s my recent column on just how critical.) The business is changing fast, and your job is changing with it. If you are to succeed, you need a clear understanding from your boss about what your role entails, and that understanding needs to be updated with every change in your responsibility. Read more


What journalist’s skill do the best bosses employ? They talk with people.

Great leaders make the time to talk with their staff. (Flickr photo by John Santerre)

Great leaders make the time to talk with their staff. (Flickr photo by John Santerre)

When I look back at the columns I’ve written over the past 10 years, a consistent theme emerges:

Bosses need to talk with people.

That would seem pretty obvious, especially for newsroom managers. After all, journalists know their success depends on how well they talk with people.

And when I ask journalists–managers and their staffs alike–about the bosses they most admire, they use descriptors like “great listener,” “accessible” and “collaborator.”

But clearly, many managers have not carried that skill set into their supervisory jobs.

Listen to their staffs:

“She never leaves her office.”

“I wish someone would give me some feedback.”

“No one ever sees him; he’s always in meetings.”

I was on a track to be just that kind of leader—maybe without knowing it. Read more


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

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