Tips for managing your career, especially for job seekers.

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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. How tragic. It happened so quickly; I never saw it coming.

Am I overreacting? Of course I am. That’s what insecure journalists do. Some are convinced they’ll never write again. Others believe they will never master the digital skills their jobs now require. Still others simply think that finally, after years of fooling their bosses, they have been found out as talentless hacks.

But while they think they need a new career, what they need is a good slap — the kind that really good bosses know just when, and how, to deliver.

Bosses like John Dotson — but when I needed him last week, he was nowhere to be found.

John passed away last year, 30 years after we were colleagues at The Inquirer. He came through Philadelphia before moving on to Akron, where he became publisher of the Beacon Journal and led the newspaper’s Pultizer Prize-winning coverage of race relations.

During our time in Philadelphia, John taught me a lot—but he never helped me more than on a winter’s day in 1983 when we were walking back to the office from lunch—and he slapped me.

That morning, our editor had assigned us to begin an expansion of the paper’s presence in New Jersey by opening a new bureau and publishing a twice-weekly local news section. It was my first big assignment at the Inquirer—and my insecurities immediately kicked in. I spent lunch telling John all the reasons I was worried. I suspect I did nothing to help his chicken salad settle.

We were only a dozen strides out of the restaurant when John moved a step ahead, turned to face me and stopped. I froze. John looked angry. I don’t know for sure that these were his exact words, but almost 30 years later, they are the ones I remember:

“Stop it, Butch. Just stop it. If Gene didn’t think you could do this, he wouldn’t have given you the job. But he knows you can. And you do, too. So just do it.”

Slapped.

I don’t remember what I said to John next, but I know what I felt. Yes, a little embarrassed; but even more, I felt believed in.

Believed in by someone I admired.

That day certainly wasn’t the last on which I felt insecure. But John’s slap changed me in at least two important ways: first, I moved on with a bit more confidence—enough to carry out that assignment and a number of others in the years to come.

More importantly, I recognized that talented people need to hear something they don’t always believe:

That they are good.

Now, it’s certainly not news that a lot of journalists harbor insecurities about their work. Indeed, some of the most talented newsroom people I know are among the most insecure. Unfortunately, some work for bosses with little or no patience for reassuring insecure staffers. They call them “needy,” “whiners,” “head cases.”

Sure, I’ve known journalists who seem to bring a new source of anxiety to the boss every day. For them, the “slap” needs to involve an understanding about how much access to your time is reasonable.

But the truth about many good—and insecure—journalists is that they only end up in your office when they hit bottom. When they think they’re failing.

Some of the luckiest ones had Jim Naughton for a boss.

On many a day, I watched Jim—the former executive editor of The Inquirer (and a past President at Poynter)—as he huddled in his cramped cubicle with a distraught member of the staff who just knew their career was over.

To be sure, Jim could be patient, and these scenes often lasted long into the afternoon. But eventually, after his efforts to reason and comfort had failed, Jim would move just a bit closer to the staffer and say:

“You need to stop this. You are good. Really good. Do you know how I know you’re good. Because we hired you, that’s how. And we don’t hire people unless they’re good. So get out there, relax and do what you’re good at.”

Last week at the Associated Press Sports Editors conference in Washington D.C., I talked with editors about how, especially in times when resources are stretched thin, our best staffers receive the least attention. After all, they come through every day with good work, and many of them rarely ask for anything.

Trust me. That does not mean they do not need attention—maybe even a slapping.

For even if they are not feeling insecure, they need the attention of someone who tells them that they are good, that their work is improving—that they are believed in.

Neglect your best people at your own risk. More than one manager has been surprised when a good staffer decides to leave, usually to join someone who provided what you didn’t—a much-needed dose of praise.

So here are three ideas for helping your best staffers fight their insecurities:

Be clear about what you like. You probably thank best staffers for their good work. But to make that praise meaningful, be specific about what you liked. Remember your goal: To help staffers be more aware of their talents—and which ones you specifically value. That increases the chance they will replicate the good work, and creates a platform from which you can continue to talk with them about improvement.

Talk growth. Telling someone he or she is good is important. But helping me plot my future success is even more valuable. If I am your best feature writer, what can that talent help me become? Build a continuing conversation with your best staffers around their ambitions and how their talents can help them realize them. (Especially in this job environment, it’s not enough to believe I am good—I need to believe I will be good.) And don’t be afraid to include in that conversation the areas in which the staffer needs to improve. Even if I am insecure, I can hear your advice for how I need to improve as supportive—especially if you’ve made it clear you’re invested in my future.

Challenge. Get beyond the words. Nothing demonstrates your belief in me more than an assignment I know you really care about. Whether it’s a story, an investigation or a new product introduction, give your best staffers bigger and bigger opportunities to prove to you—and to themselves—that they are good.

So if you’ve gotten this far, I guess it’s clear that—for better or worse—I got over my writer’s block.

Thanks to a slap.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you don’t have to rely on a boss to help you snap out of a funk. After two weeks of living with my flare-up of insecurities, it was my wife who—for want of a better metaphor—stopped and faced me on the street with a message I needed to hear.

Donna and I were in the middle of a four-hour car ride to visit her brother in Jacksonville and she had listened to me try to explain, again, why I couldn’t seem to write anything.

For a while, Donna was quiet. Then she began, “William…” in that tone– you know the one–the one that’s stern and caring at the same time.

“William,” she said, “people believe in you. I hate to see you doing this to yourself. You will write when you know you have something to write about. I know you will.”

Thanks, Donna.

In the end, I know it’s important for all of us to believe in ourselves. But some days, it’s hard.

So let me speak for insecure people in newsrooms everywhere:

Boss, we know you’re busy and we’re sorry to be pains in your ass, but on some days, we just need to hear that someone believes in us.

We’d like it to be you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

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How I might have responded to Clay Shirky’s student

Is it unfair to steer journalism students to jobs in print publications?

That question rumbled in my mind like a storm cloud after reading a provocative recent essay by Professor Clay Shirky. I learn a lot from his work and was eager to learn more.

Shirky described a recent moment in which he addressed about 200 students in a college journalism class. One student asked him, “So how do we save print?”

Shirky answered: “I was speechless for a moment, then exploded, telling her that print was in terminal decline and that everyone in the class needed to understand this if they were thinking of journalism as a major or a profession….This was a room full of people who would rather lick asphalt than subscribe to a paper publication; what on earth would make them think print was anything other than a wasting asset?”

Shirky concluded that adults were “lying to them.” Those lies, according to the professor, included futile efforts to save print by various revenue generating schemes.

I am no expert on the business side of journalism. But I know something about journalism students and their aspirations. If that young woman had been my student, I think I would have responded differently, not in terms of the literal language of her question, but in terms of its spirit.

I sense that this student is no “nostalgist” about print, to use Shirky’s language. But I’d bet that she sees something worthy in her experience over time that she associates with print. Perhaps she’d like to see her name on the cover of a book or magazine – or on the front page of a newspaper atop a powerful investigation or suspenseful narrative.

I would frame my answer to her in terms of something that Neil Postman once told me in my only personal conversation with him. He said that every technological change carries with it two competing forces: the creation of new benefits and the loss of things we treasure. He said that it was our job to take full advantage of the benefits and to compensate for the losses.

So I would think that the question “So how do we save print?” was at its essence a question about how we preserve the best things we have associated with the print tradition, which formed, in a nutshell, would include good writing, reporting, and editing in the public interest.

If she asked me about jobs, I would have told her and her colleagues that if they wanted to imagine a life for themselves as storytellers in the public interest, they might still give print – even newspapers – a try.

Given the shrinking resources of newspapers, reporting jobs are hard to come by. But consider this: In the glory days of fully-staffed newsrooms, young reporters had to wait a long time to land a big story. There were hoops to jump through, a series of beats to cover before you got to “enterprise” work.

With smaller staffs, with the replacement of older higher-paid employees with younger cheaper recruits, the “cub” reporter can now hit the ground running. There are fewer editors to guide this reporter, to be sure, but also fewer forces to rein her in.

I hope I am not a “nostalgist.” I believe in Poynter president Tim Franklin’s vision of helping print institutions build a bridge to a digital future. I am not looking for a return of some golden era of newspapering, and I don’t know anyone who is.

My residual good feeling about print is sparked instead by a recent experience as a judge of a writing contest. This was the Best American Newspaper Narrative competition, sponsored by the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, home of the prestigious Mayborn literary conference.

The contest included 46 narrative entries. Every one of them was exceptional in some way and worthy of praise. Every one of them advanced the public interest. They covered most of the important issues and stories of the day: mass shootings, terrorism, mental illness, immigration, education, catastrophic weather and other natural disasters, drug abuse, soldiers coming home from war, unemployment, urban renewal, child neglect, and much, much more.

Some of the best work came from the biggest papers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. The bigger regional papers also submitted outstanding work: The Arizona Republic, Tampa Bay Times, Detroit Free Press, The Charlotte Observer, The Dallas Morning News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Boston Globe, The Virginian-Pilot, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and Asbury Park Press. While all of these papers have lost resources and staff, you can see in the quality of the submitted work, which I read in digital form, a continuing commitment to outperform their resources, to do the best possible job in both narrative and investigative modes.

And lest we think that such quality is a big dog’s game, let’s hear it for the Wausau Daily Herald, The Galveston County Daily News, Archer County News, Opelousas Daily World, and The Lafayette Daily Advertiser.

At a lunch at Poynter years ago, my colleague Don Fry declared that newspapers in print form would no longer exist by such and such a date. In front of witnesses, I bet him $1,000 that he was wrong. That date passed a while back, but I haven’t collected and don’t feel I deserve to. Taking the long view, Don was right. As is Clay Shirky. But no one practices journalism in the long view. It’s called journalism, after all, from the French word jour, meaning the day– this day — today.

Taking a job in a newspaper remains, I believe, one of the best investments a young journalist can make.

I agree that the young writers who write great stories for newspapers may not even subscribe to the print publication that supports them. It doesn’t matter. They have a chance to learn their craft, to practice the discipline of finding things out and checking them out, to write stories about the great characters who populate our towns and cities. They have the chance to right wrongs, pursue their creative vocation, and get paid for it.

And guess what, if their newspaper closes its doors tomorrow, they will be prepared for the next job – in or out of journalism – in whatever medium and platform it is expressed. They will possess the skills and the sense of mission and purpose they need for the next challenge. If I had been that journalism student, I would have hoped for something like that in reply. Read more

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

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Live chat replay: What opportunities do storytelling apps hold for journalists?

With a solid career in news design Joe Zeff, has become a top designer of apps. Formerly the graphics director at TIME, Zeff designs apps that, among other things, focus on telling stories.

His latest project is Spies of Mississippi, Free in the iTunes store. “Spies of Mississippi” is also a book and a PBS show. All tell about the state campaign to block African American voting rights during the civil rights movement. Zeff’s project, which includes documents that help tell the story, is described as “Unlike a book or documentary, this ‘appumentary’ leverages the multimedia capabilities of the iPad to enable audiences to engage, explore and respond.” We’ll talk about the marriage of traditional journalist values and storytelling with new forms and how journalists can get ready for those opportunities.

Here is a replay of the live chat.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay chats after they have ended. Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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Tuesday, Apr. 22, 2014

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Live Chat replay: Journalist Rodney Curtis tells how he got laid (off), lived to laugh about it

Rodney Curtis is not right. Like thousands of other journalists, he got laid off. Unlike all the others, though, he decided this would make a funny book, “Getting Laid (Off).” Who does that? Seriously, folks, American Society of News Editors surveys show that newsroom employment is down from a peak of 56,900 in 1989 to 38,000 in 2012. The 2013 number is expected to be smaller.

Poynter career chats feature job opportunities and strategies for journalists, but the new journalism jobs have not filled that gap and many have had to leave the industry. Curtis’ approach seems to be that if you can’t beat ‘em, tickle ‘em. Has it worked for Curtis? Can it work for anyone else?

See below a replay of our Wednesday, April 23, talk with Curtis.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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Wednesday, Apr. 02, 2014

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Live chat replay: Will crowdfunding finance journalists?

The startup Beacon, one of the newer efforts to fund independent journalists, says it has signed up 100 journalists and several thousand subscribers.

Shane Bauer is now featured on the site, trying to attract funding so that he can cover U.S. prisons for a year. As of Tuesday night, $14,520 had been raised, 19 percent of his goal. The post says a backer has pledged to match up to $37,500. Bauer has a little more than three weeks to raise what he needs. Contributors will get access to Bauer’s stories and all the other stories on the site.

Other journalists on Beacon have told stories about climate change, GMOs, social media and countries around the world.

Could this work for you? Is this a model for supporting journalists and getting stories out? We talked with Beacon’s Adrian Sanders on Wednesday, April 2. Read the replay below.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats. Twitter users can ask questions using the hashtag #poynterchat for any of our live chats.

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Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2014

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Live chat replay: What sports journalists need to know to compete

In remarks for the College Media Association conference in New York on March 13, Associated Press Vice President Lou Ferrara issued a wake-up call for sports reporters.

He said traditional sports journalism is changing, that game coverage is waning and that general news coverage is what the AP and others need now. Ferrara joined us in a Poynter careers chat at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday to map out the needs.

Ferrara helps the AP orchestrate coverage of big-time sports events like the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and he has some very specific tips about how sports journalists can get ready for the craft’s future needs.

A replay of the chat is below.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014

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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. It’s just how I usually behave in meetings: hang back, survey the room, silently test my thinking against the others to see whether I’ll sound foolish when I finally speak up.

Eventually I did speak up and, while my observations certainly didn’t leave the others speechless (after all, they’re extroverts), I didn’t embarrass myself. I was glad I jumped in.

The experience reminded me, though, how challenging it is to be an introvert in an extrovert’s world. Sometimes we wait too long to join a conversation and it ends before we make our move. Some bosses mistake our silence for a lack of ideas, sometimes even for a lack of interest.

Fact is, we have lots of ideas — but we like to think about them before sharing.

That, according to my colleague Jill Geisler, is one big difference between extroverts and introverts: Extroverts want to talk out an idea as it hits them, while introverts want to think it through first. I’m not overly shy and I do like having dinner with others, going to a party, and being part of a large gathering. (At least sometimes.) But those activities don’t energize me; they drain me. I find my energy inside myself.

So bosses, be aware that there are people in your meetings, quiet people, who might need to be asked what they’re thinking. You might also:

  • Pull us aside after a meeting and get our take one-on-one.
  • Begin the meeting by asking everyone to write down a few thoughts on the issue at hand, in order to even the playing field.
  • Hand out, or at least announce, an agenda ahead of time to give us a chance to collect our thoughts.

Yes, bosses (especially you extroverted bosses), you might gain a lot by being more aware of the introverts in your midst.

But let’s also be clear: Introverts, we need to look out for ourselves.

For, as Jill also says, being aware of our tendencies might explain us, but it doesn’t excuse us.

If we want to be effective in an extrovert’s world, we need to assert ourselves, test our comfort zones, and take some risks — without abandoning our unique gifts.

In other words, we need to keep thinking with our head, while discovering our voice.

Here are three ideas:

1. Think “one-on-one.” Getting comfortable enough to speak in a room filled with extroverts is a daunting challenge. Slow down. It’s much easier to build individual relationships with others, even if they are extroverts. And you’ll enjoy multiple benefits from giving someone a chance to know you.

First, you’ll gain confidence. Think of it as using these individual relationships as practice for sharing your thoughts and ideas in larger venues. It’s much harder to keep quiet in a one-on-one setting, and so you’ll speak. (Yes, I know that even one-on-one, extroverts talk a lot — but it’s easier to politely break into a monologue than into a meeting full of voices.)

Second, those with whom you build individual relationships might change the way they treat you in group settings, such as meetings. (They actually might call on you to speak — especially if they know you agree with them.)

2. Be a (shameless) copycat. People who comfortably play leadership roles in organizations often are credited with an abundance of natural gifts. Maybe. More likely they are simply good students of the leaders they were fortunate to work for and learn from. My style is a distillation of a hundred leadership styles that I’ve watched and admired and attempted to mimic over nearly 40 years.

Like the way someone makes a presentation? Notice how she engages the audience, designs her slides, paces her material. Wish you could run a meeting like your boss? Watch how he keeps the meeting on point, expresses disagreement without disrespect, encourages everyone to participate.

The point is: We work with many talented people who, if we pay close attention to how they do their jobs, can help us achieve our goal — developing our voices.

(And they’ll be flattered.)

3. Seek out assignments to show off — and stretch. Newsrooms are increasingly looking for staffers to participate in projects and task forces. Whether it’s the development of a new product, a newsroom reorganization or a training initiative, opportunities exist for introverts to develop new skills. It’s almost a cliché to look for introverts to play research roles in organizational projects, and with good reason: Many of us are good at research. But let’s not leave all of the out-front roles to the extroverts.

Volunteer to present findings or update the project’s progress. Then, once you get the assignment, prepare well. Create an agenda and distribute it beforehand. Keep your presentation focused and move it along. Encourage questions and comments. (Before the meeting, brief one or more of those colleagues with whom you’ve built relationships and let them help you discourage speeches and keep the meeting on point.)

And no matter how it goes, seek out your boss for feedback. After all, you plan on doing this again. You don’t have to go on this journey alone, after all, it can be a grueling one. Having the boss share your effort — and support it — can be a great help.

Related: What Great Bosses Know about Extroverts | What Great Bosses Know about Introverts | 3 Major Misunderstandings (When Introverts and Extroverts Collide) Read more

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Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014

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Live chat replay: how to make LinkedIn work for you

With more than a quarter billion people using LinkedIn, almost 100 million of them in the United States, LinkedIn has reach.

But how do you get the most out of it? What can it do for your career other than show people your work history?

LinkedIn Corporate Communication Manager Yumi Wilson will walk us through some strategies. A former journalist and journalism professor, Wilson’s LinkedIn profile says she now links journalists with success. Find out how.

For this chat, open one window for Poynter.org and another for your LinkedIn profile page.

Join us for a live chat on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

To post a question: Log in by entering your name below or sign in with a social media account. Your question goes to moderation, and we’ll get to it shortly!

Twitter users can ask questions using the hashtag #poynterchat.

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Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2014

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Live chat replay: What happens when a journalism career breaks?

Thousands of journalists have had to pick up the pieces and start over because of layoffs, firings and downsizing.

Warren Watson, executive director of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, has interviewed several of them and is working on a project about broken journalism careers.

He has had some career interruptions himself. We talked about how journalists restart their career, what they have experienced, how you can be prepared and what kinds of entirely different careers former journalists enter.

Replay the live chat for an honest conversation about strategies for dealing with career interruptions. Watson even shared some very unique career transitions such as a photojournalist who started a gourmet pizza business and another former journalist who is now a dog and horse trainer.

We also offered advice about how to avoid the downward spiral that may come with switching careers or losing a job and the importance of rekindling your self-confidence.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended. Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

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Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

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Understanding opportunities and challenges in sponsored content (Replay chat)

Shane Snow, cofounder with two friends of Contently, manages a network of 25,000 freelancers. According to Contently’s website, the sweet spot where these freelancers thrive is creating content for “brands, nonprofits, and lean new media companies.”

Snow and his team, described as a mashup of journalists and nerds, are on the front edge of branded content or native advertising.

Forbes, a Contently client, recognized Snow this month in “30 under 30: These People are Building the Media Companies of Tomorrow.”

Snow joined us for a live chat on the opportunities, challenges and values of sponsored content.

Participants asked Snow about the ins and outs of branded content.

Twitter users can participate in any Poynter live chat using the hashtag #poynterchats. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended. You can find the archive of all past chats at www.poynter.org/chats.

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