Jill Geisler

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Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism. In addition to teaching leadership styles, conflict resolution, collaboration, coaching, decision making and problem solving, she also teaches in the area of ethics and broadcast journalism. Her background as a TV news director, reporter, anchor and producer inform her teaching on broadcast issues as well as her work with print and online leaders.


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Managers: 4 things to check before the year ends

time-managementAs the year winds down, it’s a good time for managers to step back for a little review and reflection. I suggest that you check areas that are time-sensitive as well as those that are timeless leadership responsibilities and opportunities.

You’re busy, of course, so I’ll keep the list concise:

  • Look at your budget. Is there any use-it-or-lose-it money that will evaporate at the end of December? If so, how might you creatively put that to work in a hurry? While you are scanning your financial records, review your spending categories. Are you seeing any trends, any surprises during this calendar year? What does it tell you about planning and priorities? How might that guide your future decision-making?
  • Look at your team. Who hasn’t had some quality time with you in a while? It might be your highest performers, the ones who don’t make problems and often get less attention. Don’t miss a chance to let them know they’re truly appreciated. What about your newest hires? Are they still happy they signed on? Listening to their feedback can help them — and you. On reflection, how would you describe your entire team’s year? Was it one of accomplishment, turbulence, growth or resilience? How can you help the staff learn from the year’s low points and celebrate the highs? The way you frame that story can tee them up for a focused re-start in January.
  • Look at your tools and training. Did you introduce new hardware or software this year? Who’s using it well? Who’s lagging and could use some coaching? What’s broken and still hasn’t been fixed or is dated and causing frustration? Can you make one more stab at short-term fixes — or at least communicate the long-term solution strategy to the troops? Sometimes they just need to hear one more time that you feel their pain and have a plan. What conversations should you have about training in general – from technology to skills – to improve your team’s performance? If your training budget is low or non-existent, can you tap your in-house experts to help? Now’s a good time to put that plan together for the road ahead.
  • Look in the mirror. I’ve asked you to consider your budget, team and tools, but you’re important as well. I know too many dedicated managers who forget to take good care of themselves as they tend to the needs of the organization. What did you do just for you this past year? Did you take time to recharge your batteries? When the digital world conspires to keep you “always on,” have you learned when and how to disconnect? Are you effectively delegating to others by sharing knowledge and power? Did you get a chance to learn something new that made you more effective in your role, or simply happier as a person? If you haven’t done enough for yourself this year, how about pledging to make it happen in the year ahead?

As you do your review, there’s one more important thing to keep in mind. I share that extra tip in this column’s companion “What Great Bosses Know” podcast:

FYI: if you’re a podcast fan, you can download my entire Poynter “What Great Bosses Know” collection free on ITunesU.

 

 

 

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How to manage a ‘newsroom star’ and keep everyone happy

This is the core message of my teaching: The most important things leaders do is help other people succeed.

So what happens when they indeed succeed, and in a really big way? What’s your responsibility when a member of your team builds a massive fan base, wins coveted awards, or rakes in high revenues for your organization?

Congratulations, You get to manage a star – with all the joys and challenges that accompany that responsibility.

I hope I haven’t frightened you.

Not all stars are problematic, although recent high profile management/star conflicts (Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Simmons, Don Surber) might leave that impression.

How stars wield the clout born of their contributions determines whether they’re what I call “low maintenance” or “high maintenance.”

Low maintenance stars are collegial, productive, interested in the organization as well as themselves, and committed to core values including integrity and quality.

But low maintenance stars aren’t sheep. They may still be tough salary negotiators, seek more staff or tech support, and expect creative scheduling or other perks in exchange for the value they add to the business.

Low maintenance stars also push back against management. In fact, their colleagues often ask them to use their influence to speak up for the team. In the many years I’ve taught leadership seminars for television news anchors and seen feedback from their peers about their performance, it’s clear the anchors’ starring role provides them a platform others lack. They can more safely serve as the “loyal opposition” — questioning quality lapses, system flaws, or unwise management decisions. When they do it effectively, it’s appreciated by both their buddies and their bosses.  Honest. I’ve seen it and I’ve lived it in my own newsroom.

Then there are the high maintenance stars. In that category you find egocentricity and narcissism, and an expectation that they’re exempt from standards that apply to others – from civility to process. They chafe at being edited or even supervised. They specialize in going around their immediate supervisors and demanding to deal only with top-level bosses. The people who work with them live in fear of outbursts and insults. At worst, they not only flout workplace rules of the road, but their off-the-clock behavior becomes a headache for their organizations as well.

The management migraine, as we see in the Ghomeshi story, pulses at the intersection of fair process for an employee accused of wrongdoing, public relations, and transparency with staff and the public. This Toronto Star story lays all that out quite well.

Who’s to blame for high maintenance stars?

The stars themselves, of course, but also the organizations that let them thrive. The high-maintenance stars aren’t really being managed, they’re being enabled. Their co-workers take the brunt of their behavior as long as they can stand it, and feel it’s useless or even risky to complain about them. (Reach back ten years ago to the Jack Kelley fabrication scandal at USA Today to see a vivid illustration of that phenomenon.)

So, how do great bosses manage stars? With these understandings:

  • High performers and high producers deserve managers who reward that success in every responsible way.
  • Managers of stars should always be upfront about what the limits of the rewards will be and what’s non-negotiable.
  • Treating colleagues as servants or punching bags is non-negotiable.
  • Ignoring standards and ethics of the organization is non-negotiable.
  • Star performers often experience insecurity, fearing their success is tenuous. They may overreact to small mistakes — their own or those of others — as a threat to their status. They need managers who help them reframe those situations, calm their fears and find solutions.
  • Staying close to stars rather than keeping a distance is wise. Access to managers enables them to have a sounding board for their ideas, aspirations and concerns.
  • No matter how celebrated or accomplished, high performers still appreciate honest positive and negative feedback from a trusted manager.
  • We get what we hire – for better or worse. If we a bring someone into the workplace because we like their “edginess” or the “in your face” style of their work, and don’t manage them well, we can’t be surprised when they take that approach to their colleagues, managers or the public. We created our own monster.
  • The co-workers of stars matter, too. If the stars’ perks and privileges seem excessive and unfair to their good (if not yet great) colleagues, it can be demoralizing and demotivating. Tomorrow’s stars may leave.

Finally, remember this:

There’s always room for one more star in any organization. Find them, grow them, groom them – then manage them well. After all, the most important thing leaders do is help others succeed.

 * * *

 My work with TV news anchors in our leadership seminars provides me additional insights into “stars” — including some surprises.  I share them in the companion podcast to this column.

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Listening

Be a Better Listener in 3 Minutes

I work with managers and non-managers alike who want to become better at listening. I’ve read books on it, written columns, and teach sessions on the essentials of the skill.

And then I met journalist E. S. Isaac of India and got a better education on what it means to truly listen.

During a dinner conversation before a week-long leadership seminar at Poynter, Isaac shared his insights. He grew up in rural Chhattisgarh, in Central India. His parents were illiterate. But his father, Benbarisi Isaac, was his best teacher.

I found what E. S. Isaac said — and how he said it — to be so meaningful that I asked his permission to record and share his thoughts.

I think this will be the best three minutes you spend today.

Who is this wise man?

Isaac oversees Doordarshan Television’s international channel DDIndia.  He manages the sports programming on DDSports, reaching 143 countries across the world.

From left to right, Father, Neha, Isaac (back), Mother, Nikhil, Rekha (front) Outside village home

From left to right, Benbasi Isaac (father), Aaditi Isaac(daughter), E. S. Isaac (back), Susena Kumari (mother), Rekha Sinha (wife), Aalok Isaac( son, in front).
I am standing behind my daughter,E S Isaac.
The photograph was taken on 28th April 1994 by Chanchal Isaac outside their village home

He was one of 15 international journalists selected for The Media Project’s Coaching and Leadership Fellowship initiative. The class met at Poynter the week of September 21.

I served as their leadership guide for the week. But when I got to the session on communication skills, you can bet that I delegated to Isaac.  And I listened. Read more

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Overworked and overwhelmed? Consider these 7 questions

If you’re feeling swamped at work these days, you’re not alone. I’m not talking “I don’t get to go out for lunch very often” busy. I mean “I’m buried in work, never fully off the clock and still feel I’m letting people down” busy. I hear it regularly from the managers I teach and coach.

It’s a function of the downsized staffing but increased demands and responsibilities in changing organizations.

The story is familiar: to hit budget numbers, the company cuts head count but leaves fully intact the expectation of quality, service and measurable results. (I’ll give CNN president Jeff Zucker credit. Referencing the depressing specter of buyouts and layoffs, he didn’t try to spin it as some great opportunity for the survivors to work smarter, not harder. He said “We are going to do less and have to do it with less.”)

Businesswoman stressed out

But what about those who are doing so much, perhaps too much, these days?  Their leaders often suggest that they do a better job of delegation. They may be right. Even when staffing is strong, managers often hesitate to delegate. For perspective, I looked for my first Poynter.org column on delegation: “Why We Don’t Delegate, but Could.” I wrote it in 2002!

But delegation alone isn’t enough today. Front line managers need to work with their leaders to take a comprehensive look at workloads, workflow, strategies, systems and shifting priorities in changing times. They need to constantly communicate about effectiveness, efficiency and yes, exhaustion.

As I work with organizations that are trying to do just that, I developed 7 questions for leaders and managers to ask themselves. I hope you find them helpful:

1. Whose job is it, anyway? This is a call for clarification of the manager’s role. What are the most important responsibilities he/she should have? What tasks have gravitated to that person because of tradition, or a particular talent, or simply by default? What assumptions underlie the manager’s list of duties, and is it time to challenge some of them?

2. When I feel guilty about delegating, what’s the reason?  Some managers fear that delegating is simply dumping on others, a confession of incompetence and or a sign of slacking off.  Empathy, expertise and work ethic are all commendable qualities of managers, but shouldn’t stand in the way of a rational review of one’s workload.

3. Do I secretly love certain tasks and don’t want to let go? This one is self-evident. If you simply love keeping a hand in certain things, even if they are not essential to your management role, what’s the cost/benefit ratio? Only you and your leaders can assess whether the joy is worth the ripple effect it has on other work and people. It may be. Just be transparent about your decision to keep doing that task – and open to revisiting the impact.

4. What do I have to learn to teach before I can delegate this? Managers often keep doing a task because they’re ill-prepared to train others how to do it. They don’t want to take the time to build an instruction guide or plan, or don’t feel comfortable training others — so they keep doing the work themselves. Admit it: this is a problem you can solve.

5. How can I maintain quality over things I delegate? Concern about quality control often causes managers to avoid delegating. But you CAN keep close enough touch to ensure things will go well. When I wrote about delegation in my book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” I highlighted a quote taken from some terrific feedback that a boss in one of my seminars received:

He never rests on his laurels and is always seeking ways to improve our performance, even as resources contract and the pressure on staff increases. He is not afraid to delegate; he stands back and lets you get on with it, but he is always close at hand, seeking updates on how the job is going, asking if assistance is needed.

6. What ambitions of ours are most helpful? When do we get too distracted by shiny objects? Management teams need work together to determine when they are committing to projects without sufficient analysis of the potential impact. It looks like this: We go to a meeting to talk about a new idea, initiative or tool. We’re high achievers, so we attack that idea with 100% energy and attention. We don’t think in terms of tradeoffs of time and effort. We plunge in. And later, we may celebrate it or regret it. Innovation is critical to business success, so I’m not arguing against it at all. But be strategic rather than impulsive on the front end as you choose to pursue opportunities.

7. What can we kill without fear of capital punishment? There’s a reason I saved this one for last. If you, as a manager, want to persuade your leadership that it’s time to STOP doing something, you need to demonstrate that you’ve looked at every other alternative, especially your own performance. The powers-that-be can see that you aren’t whining or not up to the task of management. Rather, you’re a self-managing, high-performing partner. Together, you’ll assess whether a task or project produces sufficient return on the investment of your time and talent.

* * *

There’s one more critical piece of advice I give to managers who want to delegate effectively and help those to whom they delegate succeed. I share it in this companion podcast.

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What breaking news reveals about your newsroom culture

Here’s what a lifetime in journalism has taught me: Breaking news reveals the true character of a newsroom’s culture and quality.

Spot news success happens in cultures with specific systems, skills, values, mindsets – and leadership.

In the healthiest cultures, when news breaks, here’s what staffers can count on:

  • We have a plan. We don’t have to scramble to figure out how to respond each time a big story breaks. Everyone on our team has an understanding of the key roles that need to be filled – both in the field and at the mother ship. We automatically call in and report for duty. We adapt the basic plan by situation and story, and we’re never caught flat-footed.
  • It doesn’t matter if our boss is on vacation. Deputies and team members are capable of making tough decisions and deploying resources because our leader routinely shares information and power. (No one has to say, “What would the boss do?” We know what WE should do.) We know who’s in charge and we know we’re all responsible.
  • Our hardware and software won’t be our weak link. Our organization invests in the necessary gear and the preventive maintenance to keep it ready for heavy duty use at any time. We have backup provisions for power, technology and tools.
  • Our communication works. Okay, it never works perfectly, but we have phone trees, updated contact lists for email, social media and phone access, bridge lines for conference calls, protocols for briefings, and computer files for shared information and resources as the story continues. We minimize ignorance, confusion and duplication.
  • We’re cross-trained and talent-deep. We’re not in a hole because a key player or craftsperson isn’t available. Even our bench is brilliant — and can step in with confidence and competence. We can cover all the bases.
  • We have an investigative and analytical mindset. We assume that everyone will cover the “what.” We’ll get that — and automatically dig into the “why?,” “what the hell?,” “what’s the bigger picture?,” and “what next?” That’s not the exclusive role of people with “investigative” in their titles; it’s expected of all of us on the team.
  • We play on all possible platforms. We understand that people expect the news to come to them, wherever they are, however they prefer to consume it. We do our best to deliver — with quality.
  • The whole building knows the drill. When breaking news demands all hands on deck, people from other departments (from sales to sports to marketing to maintenance) take the default position: “How can I help?” We gratefully tap their talent and plug them into our plans.
  • We know what we stand for. We know that breaking news is fraught with land mines. We know how to navigate them. Because we talk about values in our everyday coverage, the stress of spot news won’t make us stupid.
  • We take care of each other. Our leaders focus on the needs of the next shift, the next day, the next week. They don’t let staffers run on empty, and don’t hesitate to encourage (even order, if need be) exhausted or traumatized teammates to stand down or accept help.
  • We never forget we’re covering human beings, not statistics; featuring their stories, not our selfies; chasing truth, not thrills. We’re documenting history.

And when the story becomes history, we think about how to do things better next time.

 

 

 

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Notes from Ferguson: ‘Don’t feel intimidated by the national/international press’

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Since Saturday, local media in St. Louis have covered the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. National media joined them, and on Friday, the story made the front pages of newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. We checked in with several newsroom leaders and asked them the same questions about their work, the competition and the best and worst of what they’ve seen. This is part six in our series.

Chad Garrison is the editor of the Riverfront Times. He answered these questions via email.

1. What is the most important thing you’ve told your staff as they cover this story?

I’ve tried to encourage them to get out there and report the story. Don’t feel intimidated by the national/international press and don’t feel that this story is somehow beyond the scope of a tiny newsroom (three full-time news reporters) like ours. We were on this story from the beginning and people are recognizing our ability to fully and accurately report the story.

2. Give us an example of the best coverage you’ve produced or seen?

Our managing editor, Jessica Lussenhop, led it off. Her coup of getting inside the home of the victim and interviewing the parents established our beachhead before the media throng parachuted into town on Monday.

3. What’s the worst?

I haven’t had time, frankly, to mull over all the mistakes we’ve made. One thing that comes immediately to mind, however, was a headline we wrote about Michael Brown’s music. Our music editor listened to the music and upload some of his tracks which fall under the “gangster rap” genre of hip-hop. The headline used that description and started a firestorm on Twitter from those who only read the headline. They thought we were implying that Brown was a gang member. We ended up changing the headline b/c the backlash was so harsh.

4. Do you see a difference in national and local coverage of this story?

Overall what I’ve seen from the national media is pretty fair I think. I’ve laughed a few times at watching the talking heads on TV make some glaring mistakes in their “facts” about St. Louis and Ferguson. Overall though, I credit the 24-hour cable news demand to actually pushing us to report non-stop on this.

Previously: Brian Thouvenot, news director of KMOV-TV; Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Joe Lamie, managing editor of KTVI; Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio; Chris King, editorial director of The St. Louis American Read more

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Notes from Ferguson: ‘You just have to wonder if people looking to make a point saw the coverage and decided to jump in’

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Since Saturday, local media in St. Louis have covered the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. National media joined them, and on Friday, the story made the front pages of newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. We checked in with several newsroom leaders and asked them the same five questions about their work, the competition and the best and worst of what they’ve seen. This is part five in our series.

Brian Thouvenot is the news director of KMOV-TV. He answered questions for Poynter via email.

1. What is the most important thing you’ve told your staff as they cover this story?

Safety is their FIRST priority! During the riots/looting on Sunday night, rocks were thrown through the windows of one of our live trucks and it gives you pause that we’re not safe where we’re documenting a major breaking event in our community. So, I instructed crews that if they felt unsafe, they need to clear the area and we’ll figure out our next move.

2. Give us an example of the best coverage you’ve produced or seen.

The amazing difference in the hours before the Highway Patrol took the lead on the security in Ferguson, versus after. Before our crews were dodging tear gas canisters along with demonstrators. After, we were following Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson as he led a march down West Florissant. Both events happened LIVE on our air.

3. What’s the worst?

The night of the looting/riots Sunday after 11 p.m. Many times I watched crews (from other stations) who were in some very precarious situations, surrounded by very large and angry crowds. We made a call to fall back and start documenting the looting non-live, instead of live play by play. his move also helped extended coverage of our morning news Monday.

Also in the evenings following, coverage of the occasional skirmishes only seemed to escalate the situation. You just have to wonder if people looking to make a point saw the coverage and decided to jump in.

4. Do you see a difference in national and local coverage of this story?

The starkest difference is how journalists are being treated. On the local level, we have had relatively no issue with police. But the national story is one of arresting and jailing journalists. In fact, police officials bent over backwards to honor every request to appear on KMOV, including a Town Hall meeting we produced Wednesday night in primetime from 8 to 9 p.m.

5. How does our ability to report in real time across platforms help citizens — and have you seen downsides that must be managed?

The three screen reporting of this event has been significant. All of our content can be seen on air, online, on our apps and on our social media pages. So our journalism is widely available. But, that doesn’t stop the masses from being distracted by countless errors and flat out wrong information on social media. It’s very disturbing how certain people are using social media to try and manipulate others. I cannot tell you how many false tweets we HAD to verify as false, no matter how outrageous. And then there’s Anonymous, which jeopardized the safety of countless citizens in St. Louis including the police officers they wrongly identified as ‘the shooter.’ Hackers have also disrupted legitimate business that needs to be conducted by the hard working citizens of St. Louis, by taking down government websites. It’s disheartening to see outside groups with no vested interest in St. Louis, disrupting the lives of our communities.

Previously: Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Joe Lamie, managing editor of KTVI; Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio; Chris King, editorial director of The St. Louis American Read more

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Notes from Ferguson: The city has ‘never seen such glare of the national media’

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Notes from Ferguson: ‘Let the story tell itself’

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Notes from Ferguson: ‘This is more than a big story. This is home’

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Since Saturday, local media in St. Louis have covered the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. National media joined them, and on Friday, the story made the front pages of newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. We checked in with several newsroom leaders and asked them the same five questions about their work, the competition and the best and worst of what they’ve seen . This is part two in our series.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio.

1. What is the most important thing you’ve told your staff as they cover this story?

Be safe. Facts matter, especially in a fast-moving situation such as this, so let’s clarify what’s going on. We need to do more than just covering the breaking news, meaning we need enterprise reporting that unearths information, answers questions and adds understanding.

2. Give us an example of the best coverage you’ve produced or seen.

Our live blog — reliable up to the minute information from all sources.

3. What’s the worst?

Reporters who put themselves at the center of the story.

4. Do you see a difference in national and local coverage of this story?

Of course. National reporters are writing for a different audience, so that makes sense. But also, the image of St. Louis I see reflected in national media is not the St. Louis I know. For our newsroom, homeinsurance companies this is more than a big story. This is home. We need to keep reporting on the issues that existed before Michael Brown’s death and that will still need to be addressed when the spotlight moves on.

5. How does our ability to report in real time across platforms help citizens — and have you seen downsides that must be managed?

Multiple platforms are a great asset. We especially appreciate the opportunity to reach people in different ways. It’s our biggest story by far since St. Louis Public Radio and the St. Louis Beacon merged in December. Our coverage is exponentially better than either of us would have been able to achieve separately — better meaning that we can serve people better by being deeper, broader and reaching them in more ways.

Previously: Chris King, editorial director of The St. Louis American Read more

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