Ebola

Media coverage of Ebola requires a delicate balance

The task of covering Ebola is a tricky one for the media.

Too much coverage, and we look like we’re being exploitative with scare tactics. Too little coverage, and we get blamed for not enlightening our audience of its scope.

An unidentified may wears a mask as he walks back from taking out garbage across the street from an apartment complex where Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who traveled from Liberia to Dallas, stayed last week. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

An unidentified may wears a mask as he walks back from taking out garbage across the street from an apartment complex where Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who traveled from Liberia to Dallas, stayed last week. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

A vivid photo this weekend that made its way into a lot of newspapers showed an unnamed man taking his garbage out, across the street from the apartment complex where Ebola victim Thomas Duncan lives. The man wore a mask.

Remember when Magic Johnson was first diagnosed with having HIV? Many of his teammates, opponents and fans were upset when he came out of his self-imposed retirement to play in the All Star game. I was working at WPXI (NBC) in Pittsburgh at the time. The NBC televised game generated a lot of phone calls; many of them asking why we were encouraging Johnson’s decision to play by televising the game. And there were players who didn’t want to be on the same court with him, the same locker room with him and to even shake his hand.

The issue at that time was AIDS, and unknown concerns about the disease. Some of the viewer/callers thought they could contract the disease by watching that All Star telecast. Today we can laugh, or at least smirk, at those reactions. Because we understand a lot more about HIV, Aids, and treatment. But the media did not let up then.

We are blessed in the United States with outstanding medical care. Charlotte resident Nancy Writebol came back from a missionary trip with the Ebola virus. The networks showed the many precautions taken for her flight and subsequent arrival back in the U.S. With a couple of weeks of treatment in Atlanta, she was strong enough to walk out of the hospital and return home.

But she was flown to the U.S. from Africa especially for the health care. Was she exploited by the coverage? Did the video of all the safety measures taken by the caretakers scare viewers, readers? Probably But Ms. Writebol is able to be healthy again. The people in Africa are not so fortunate. The lack of hygiene, clean water and access to facilities that know how handle the virus makes contracting the Ebola virus a veritable death sentence there.

But the contagious nature of the disease, as we now know it, has been clearly outlined by network correspondents. It does not appear to be the pandemic virus many fear.

Critics of coverage, on both the national level and local level could cite a range of opinions — over the top, just right or underwhelming.

The Charlotte Business Journal’s “Business Pulse” asked this for their weekend readers: “How much do you expect Ebola to spread in the United States?” Their unscientific poll’s first 2500 respondent’s answers:

  • 55% Problem — but we’ll avoid an epidemic.
  • 26% Mostly under control, don’t expect many more cases.
  • 14% Expect a widespread and deadly outbreak around the country.
  • 5% Under control and don’t expect any more cases in the United States.

The amount of time and energy we spend covering Ebola should be evaluation by the audience’s judgement of how the disease will impact their ‘local world.” And luckily for an overwhelming number in the United States, there is not a threat. But, that doesn’t end our responsibility to inform and stay abreast of the issue. No matter what our audience might believe. We can’t let up. No matter what the critics might say.

And hopefully, in a short period of time, we’ll understand the implications much more and can look at a disease we can control both at home and at the root of the issue, in the Ebola-stricken areas of Africa.

The author of this article, Ken White, is a broadcasting consultant/talent coach Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Thursday, Oct. 02, 2014

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

Tools:
0 Comments

Monday, Sep. 29, 2014

wichita-eagle

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. It was great. We laughed, we cried, and we left the room a bit more aware that what we did mattered.

The same thing happened to me this week. I read a story about Cleet McGhee.

Cleet’s story is the work of Dion Lefler, who covers government and politics for the Wichita Eagle. He sent me the story after I asked reporters to send me work that demonstrates a story done in a day can be memorable.

I will remember Cleet’s story. It reminds me that journalism can make good things happen.

Take a read: “Woman, man steal Lincoln Town Car that is dialysis patient’s lifeline.”

Lefler explained he was tipped to the story by Cleet’s former boss, a local Tea Party activist whom Lefler has known for years. He interviewed Cleet at his motel, photographed him and saw the security video that recorded the car theft. He also talked with police before writing the story. Done in a day.

Then good things started happening.

“The next day,” Lefler said, “I had about 12-15 messages from folks offering to drive him to his appointments. Cleet told me a woman came to his room, gave him $40 in grocery certificates, $20 cash, hugged him and left without even telling him her name.”

And there’s more. Here is Lefler’s first follow-up story: “Dialysis patient gets a lift after thieves steal his beloved Lincoln Town Car.”

I keep thinking about the moment Cleet hears that someone is giving him a car. Put yourself there:

“You’re kidding, me, man.”

But after being assured the offer was real, he said: “It will get me to my dialysis. God bless you.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Here’s Lefler’s second follow-up story: “Dialysis patient presented with replacement car from radio station, car dealership.”

Cleet’s words bear repeating:

“Somebody’s doing something for me and I’m doing something for somebody else and what goes around comes around.”

Journalists covered a lot of important stories this week. The bombing attacks on ISIS. The domestic violence crisis in sports. The spread of Ebola.

But back in June, Dion Lefler covered an important story, too: the theft of Cleet McGhee’s car.

That, I am again reminded, is why journalism matters. That’s why, when they’re reviewing the applications of all those journalists who are reapplying for their jobs, I wish Cleet McGhee had a vote.

Nice work, Dion Lefler. Thanks. Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Friday, Sep. 26, 2014

keithjenkins_56

Keith Jenkins answers questions about his meteoric ascension at National Geographic

In just about one year’s time National Geographic’s Keith Jenkins has gone from director of photography to executive editor for digital content to general manager, National Geographic Digital.

Jenkins will be charged with restructuring, reimagining and elevating the venerable organization in the digital space.

In a recent telephone interview with Poynter’s Kenny Irby, Keith shared plans and hopes for the future of NatGeo digital.

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Poynter.org: Tell me about the new role and your goal?

Jenkins: Well we are restructuring around our digital agenda for the organization and my role specifically is to make that happen and to set some priorities for (NatGeo) around digital media, but also more importantly transitioning parts of the organization from traditional print and or TV based programming to things that work online and over the internet and on mobile.

Poynter.org:  This is your third assignment in a about a year, what was your previous role at NatGeo?

Jenkins: I was executive editor, a role that I took in May, where I was really helping to restructuring the news operation and web operation here from an editorial content point of view.

Jenkins joined the company from NPR as the Director of Digital Photography a year ago.

How were you able to get so many promotions so quickly in the ranks at NatGeo? Any tips for moving up?

Jenkins:  No magic formula; I think it’s really just a result of NatGeo attempting to find its digital footing and my being in a position to help because of my experience.

Poynter.org:  How is this different from your photojournalism role and what’s the new challenge?

Jenkins: The main challenge is really being in charge of everything. (Laughter) So, really having to focus on both technology as well as content and really thinking about budget and how we make money.  It’s much more holistic in some ways, I get to look at the big picture and move all of the pieces around. And it is one step more removed from actually creating visual content.

Poynter.org: So what is your short-term, 30-day priority list?

Jenkins: Really getting the new, reconstituted digital business unit organized and staffed correctly. We need to hire a creative director, I am bringing in someone to help run digital content then to set priorities for the next six months to a year — and working on a new website for National Geographic.

Poynter.org: Moving forward, what is the role of photojournalism when you already have this tremendous history of great work?

Jenkins: Well, that is its history and legacy, and it is a huge part of its future. One of the things that we are really going to try and do is to elevate that visual storytelling even more than it currently is. We have done an “OK” job getting that material out to people, but there is way more that we can and should be doing. A part of trying to refine what we are offering across digital platforms is going to be about how do we do that better. Audiovisual storytelling is about video as well. Keeping that quality visual storytelling at the forefront of what we do no matter where we are distributing it or how.

Poynter.org: How will you and National Geographic define multimedia moving forward?

Jenkins:  It means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean different types of media, it can also mean the different types of presentation style, for each organization it is a little different. For us we are wrestling with how does it translate for us, where so much of what is done here has been photography based and now how we integrate multi media, design into presenting photography, how do we integrate video when we present photography… those types of question are the ones that we are asking and how does this stuff work on mobile.

Poynter.org  What does the future hold for young photojournalists and what advice to you have to give?

Jenkins:  Be versatile! There will always be a place for stellar photographers and photography, but the more that you can bring the gap between photography and video and audio and storytelling, the more likely you will be able to make a career because all of those individual things are changing.  The concept of only presenting a photograph is morphing.

Poynter.org  What can we expect or look forward to under your leadership?

Jenkins:  Give us some time and we will hopefully surprise you.

Jenkins joined National Geographic after working at NPR, where he was the supervising senior producer for multimedia. Prior to joining NPR, Jenkins spent 13 years at The Washington Post, where he was a staff photographer, photography editor of Washingtonpost.com, photography editor of The Washington Post Magazine and deputy assistant managing editor of photography. Jenkins was AOL’s first director of photography. He began his photography career working for the graphic designer Dietmar R. Winkler, and spent five years as a staff photographer forThe Boston Globe. Jenkins is an award-winning photographer and has a law degree from Boston University. Read more

Tools:
1 Comment

Tuesday, Sep. 02, 2014

Katharine Weymouth

Katharine Weymouth’s resignation completes the close of the Graham era at the Washington Post

Katharine Weymouth (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Katharine Weymouth (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

In a word, unsurprising. Katharine Weymouth’s announced resignation today as Washington Post publisher simply completes the ownership change initiated a year and a month ago when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the paper.

Neither Bezos nor Weymouth were commenting (even to the Post) about the circumstances and timing of the change, though the New York Times reported it was initiated by Bezos. My guess would have been that she had agreed to stay on for a transitional year as part of the sale, but perhaps she was trying out for a longer tenure with the new owner.

It is hard to call Weymouth’s six-plus years as publisher a success, but I wouldn’t say she failed in the job either.  She took control at the worst possible time in 2008 as the deep recession accelerated the precipitous decline of print advertising, especially at metro papers. She oversaw rapid-fire experiments with new revenue sources and a series of strategies for digital growth.  None of her initiatives turned the enterprise around — but then, who in a similar situation did?

This has been the era of “Riptide” (as a Harvard study project by three former media executives was titled).  A strong legacy brand may have been as much a liability as an asset in competition with digital disruptors. Staying afloat was an accomplishment.

Weymouth’s legacy will be twofold.  In December 2012, she took a clear-eyed look at her tenure and at the Post’s prospects and persuaded her uncle, CEO Donald Graham, that it was time for a new owner, a new vision and new capital to support a transition that will take years more.

Around that same time, she hired Martin Baron away from the Boston Globe as editor.  Knowing Baron well, I am not unbiased, but he is certainly one of the best editors of his generation, if not the best.

I heard of Weymouth (without knowing much of anything about her) more than a decade ago.  Someone told me that none of Graham’s four children was interested in succeeding him in the family business, but a niece was and was moving through business jobs at the paper in preparation.

Graham had done a similar apprenticeship (as have various Sulzbergers at the New York Times).  But a tour of departments with increasing responsibilities doesn’t exactly get an heir apparent ready the way it once did.

My own limited impressions of Weymouth were formed in several visits to Poynter in St. Petersburg (where her father is an accomplished architect) and several appearances at the annual conference of the Newspaper Association of  America, where she seemed to enjoy asking the questions as a moderator more than answering them.

A sharp intelligence was evident, but she was not much on the vision thing in public forums and revealed little about what she saw as the Post’s biggest business challenges or how she planned to deal with them.  Easy for me to say, but I am not sure, in retrospect, what the benefits of greater candor would have been.

Most accounts of Weymouth’s time (including the Post’s own this morning) will rate as her greatest blunder a plan to put advertisers together with Post editors and reporters in “salons.” at her home. I think that’s a bad rap.

A mashup of an events strategy with her grandmother’s legacy as a dinner party hostess, the effort launched with bad optics and was withdrawn.  But the Post quickly got back in the events business (where sponsorships are an easy sell compared to conventional advertising). Weymouth’s version doesn’t strike me as all that different from Atlantic Media owner David Bradley’s widely praised development of a-list events as an important revenue stream.

Amanda Bennett, a seasoned top editor as well as Don Graham’s wife, was ready with an effusive tribute to Weymouth, posted as a comment minutes after Poynter Online’s news story about the change.  Bennett’s focus is on Weymouth’s “courage” in fighting the good fight, then knowing when to take the painful step of ending family control.

The morning line on Weymouth’s successor, Frederick Ryan, seems to include musings about whether his early career as a Reagan aide augurs a Post move to the right editorially.  I doubt it. Bezos is no ideologue and, especially on foreign affairs, Fred Hiatt’s editorial page is fairly conservative already.

To my mind, the more relevant factoid is that Ryan comes from Albritton Communications,  a longtime Post competitor.  Way back in the day Washington Star provided decades of second-paper competition to the Post before it was sold by Albritton and subsequently shuttered in 1981.

Fred Ryan, Jr., (Photo by John Shinkle/POLITICO

Fred Ryan, Jr., (Photo by John Shinkle/POLITICO

More recently, without a legacy newspaper culture to work through, Albritton successfully launched Politico (of which Ryan was the founding president and chief executive) in 2007 — the very model of a smooth pivot to digital at a time when the Post was still stopping and starting, trying to find its way as a print + digital business.

Related:
Katharine Weymouth at Poynter in 2010: ‘You just keep plugging away’ Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Monday, Sep. 01, 2014

Bethune Cookman FIU Football

Journalists are losing access, but the public still expects the story

Update: FIU provides credential for Miami Herald’s beat reporter

After denying access to Miami Herald beat writer David J. Neal for the football team’s opening game last Saturday, Florida International University has decided to credential him for the remainder of the season, according to Paul Dodson, the school’s assistant athletic director for media relations.

This weekend, Florida International University opened its 2014 football season at home in Miami against Bethune-Cookman University. The game was close, ending when FIU fumbled a field goal attempt that would have won the game as time ran out.

Pretty good game, I’m guessing. But I’m only going on the six paragraphs that ran on the Miami Herald’s website under a byline: “From Miami Herald Wire Services.”

The Herald decided not to cover the game. Why?

Because FIU refused to give a press pass to the Herald’s FIU beat reporter, David J. Neal.

In a statement issued Saturday and placed atop the Herald’s original story on the flap, FIU said:

“We did not issue a media credential to the Herald’s beat reporter because of concerns we have brought up to the Herald’s reporter and editors over the past few years about the reporter’s interactions with our student athletes, coaches, and staff and the nature of the resulting coverage.”

“As far as we can tell,” Managing Editor Rick Hirsch said in the Herald’ story, “David has done a diligent, thorough job of reporting on the Golden Panthers. Not all of the coverage is positive. Teams win and teams lose. Programs have successes and stumbles. But in our review of his work, we believe it stands up to scrutiny as fair and professional.”

FIU did issue passes to a Herald photographer and columnist. But the Herald decided not to staff the game at all because, Executive Editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez said, “The team does not get to choose who covers the program.”

Disagreements with management of sports teams about media coverage are nothing new. A colleague from the Inquirer reminded me of the time the owner and general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers visited the newsroom to demand that the paper’s pro hockey writer be replaced. He was not.

Both Marques Gonzalez and the FIU statement expressed hope that the situation will be resolved. I’m guessing it will. But here’s the reality:

This is just one fight in the escalating offensive against allowing journalists to cover news.

And forgive me if I don’t sense we’re winning.

FIU fans didn't get  in depth coverage of the  season opener from the Miami Herald  this weekend.  (AP File Photo from 2013)

FIU fans didn’t get in depth coverage of the season opener from the Miami Herald this weekend. (AP File Photo from 2013)


The Obama administration has limited access by photojournalists and other reporters to White House events and to the President. Local governments and police refuse to speak with reporters whose work they dislike. Candidates restrict reporters to “press areas,” ensuring that conversations with the public are not overheard. Professional and collegiate sports teams have steadily made it more difficult to cover live events.

Many of those who control access have decided that thanks to technology, they need news organizations less and less to deliver their messages. So as they steadily build their capacity and expertise for communicating directly to the public, they grow bolder about telling journalists to take a walk.

All of this points me to two conclusions:

  • Journalists must keep up—no, escalate—the fight for access to information the public needs and has a right to get.
  • At the same time, we must get much better at covering the news without the access that others control.

Many journalism organizations are lobbying for greater access to information and events that should be available to the public; so have individual news organizations, which also file thousands of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests each year.

Join their efforts. It’s crucial to the ability of journalism to serve the public.

But while we’re fighting for our rights, we also have a job to do. And that job calls for us to fulfill the compact we have with the public:

Get the story. Even when others make it difficult.

Let’s be honest—the best journalism has often involved the reporter’s ability to obtain information someone did not want the public to have. Yet journalists got it anyway.

What I’m suggesting is that we need to apply that same mindset to areas of coverage that seem far more routine than our most ambitious enterprise work.

But we need to do it—because the public expects us to. And that’s who we work for. Not the government, large or small. Not the police. Not the local advocate for the disadvantaged. And certainly not any sports team.

We work for the public. And that’s why, when one of those entities tries to manage our coverage by denying us access, we need to ask:

What does the public want us to do?

In my experience, the public is a harsh employer. Aware of an increasing number of options for getting information, the public is likely to say:

Just get the story.

As I was browsing the web for some information on access, I stumbled upon a page on the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) web site. Headlined Shooting Sports: Tips from the Pros, the page featured six tips from Jim Colton, former Photography Editor for Sports Illustrated. Colton preceded his advice by addressing what he called a “Myth:”

“Great sports photos are only made from credentialed positions. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s nice to be in the first or third base dugouts at a baseball game but some of the best pictures are actually made from the stands, or elevated positions. This is true for almost all sports, but especially outside the professional spectrum. More and more leagues are trying to control access and content so you will have better luck getting clearance on a collegiate, high school or even parochial level….and…you’ll probably make better pictures. There are many local sporting events that do not require a credential. Start there.”

Colton’s advice anticipates that the access which photographers have traditionally enjoyed will continue to grow more restricted. But he doesn’t suggest we respond by taking our cameras home. He urges photographers to seek alternatives—and note that he says “some of the best pictures are actually made from the stands.”

What if Colton’s advice had been applied to the Herald’s standoff with FIU? The Herald knew it had a responsibility to the public and addressed it by running a short wire services report. What would have happened if the Herald’s reporter, who bought a ticket to Saturday’s game, had written a full, bylined critique of the game from the stands? The message to FIU would be clear—you cannot tell us who will cover your game because we don’t work for you—and the public would get the benefit of Neal’s expertise.

Interviewed on Sunday, Hirsch said Herald editors had discussed having Neal write from the stands, but decided against it because of their concern for accuracy. He said they were reluctant to depend on the stadium’s PA announcements for accurate play-by-play information.

If Colton were giving advice on how to cover local government when officials stop talking with you, I imagine he might say forget the officials and turn your focus—both written and visual—to the people who are affected by the government’s work. Tell their stories. Draw connections between their situations and the government decisions that contributed to them. (And be sure to tell your audience that officials no longer talk with your reporter—and why.)

I know that what I’m suggesting sometimes will require additional work. And I know that at a time when newsrooms are strapped for resources, the thought of additional work seems unreasonable. But therein lies the part of this situation that makes me uneasy in the first place.

Access, sometimes, lets us take the easy way out.

Yes, sometimes we use our access to government officials or athletes or politicians to learn something important to the public’s understanding of an issue. No question.

But sometimes we use that access to get “official” quotes that ostensibly give our stories credibility. We quote the police, the school board member, the left fielder, even when their quotes mean little and paste over the fact we didn’t get to the truth.

Here’s my suggestion:

Let’s fight, harder than ever, for access to information the public has a right to get.

But let’s also stop leaning on access to get stories that fall short of what the public needs.

Let’s take a hard look at the stories we’re pursuing and the information we’re filling them with, and ask whether access—in some cases—is letting us take the easy way out. Maybe we should turn the focus of our government coverage toward the people who are affected before officials stop talking with us.

Because maybe that would be a better story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Read more

Tools:
11 Comments

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

Businesswoman stressed out

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.

Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014

covering an event with a video camera

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.

 

 

 

  Read more

Tools:
0 Comments

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

image 1790

Ziggin’ and zoomin’: Find yourself some metaphors for leadership success

My nearly two decades at The Philadelphia Inquirer had barely begun when I first heard the phrase that, in many ways, expressed both the newsroom’s strategy—and its essence:

Zig when everyone else zags.

The idea was simple. Don’t cover the story as everyone else is covering it; find an angle that helps the reader or viewer experience the story in an entirely different way.

(One of my favorite zigs is a story by education reporter Linda Lutton at WBEZ in Chicago. During the height of that city’s gun violence in 2012, when journalists were doing thousands of stories on the victims, the shooters and police efforts to stop the bloodshed, Linda attended a teenager’s funeral with the principal of a high school that had seen 27 of its current or former students shot—in just one year. Her story inspired a two-part series of This American Life.)

For us at the Inquirer, editor Gene Roberts’ “zig” mantra was everything you want your leader’s communication to be: clear, actionable, inspiring. It helped us develop a common newsroom language. And with every “zig” we successfully executed, the mantra—and the strategy it represented—buried itself more deeply in our approach to our work.

It also, as it sometimes does, took on an even larger meaning. At the Inquirer, “zigging” eventually applied to the very culture of the newsroom that Roberts and his staff created.

Do you use mantras or metaphors to help you manage your staff—and yourself?

Meeting journalists from newsrooms around the world, I hear some metaphors repeated often. The “full-court press,” a defensive strategy in basketball, describes a newsroom’s response to a big story; a “tick-tock” is a story that recreates an event in great detail, chronologically, along a timeline.

A number of other metaphors are borrowed from visual arts, like filmmaking. And why not? They’re intended to help us visualize strategies for good storytelling:

Zoom in. Get up close to a character or scene, focusing on small details that will help bring the person or place to life.

Turn the camera around. Instead of reporting on the action in front of you (for example, the debate among members of city council), turn your attention to another, more interesting, subject (an angry person in the gallery, the stoic stenographer, a veteran security guard.)

Widen the angle. Add context to the story by placing the action in its proper relationship to what else is going on.

All of these metaphors—and other successful ones—work for several important reasons:

  1. Their meaning is clear. The staff of the Inquirer understood “Zig” and “Zag.” Our familiarity with cameras lets us appreciate what it means for a writer to “zoom in” or “widen the angle.” Mantras or metaphors that confuse are highly unlikely to catch on.
  2. They are consistent with other messages. The Inquirer when Roberts was teaching the newsroom to zig was an underdog, a newspaper scrambling for credibility in a town where the Philadelphia Bulletin was the respected paper of record. So the whole idea of bucking the trend, being the rebel—zigging when the others zagged—was consistent with our self-image.
  3. The idea they represent has merit. Many a catchy slogan has been created to help sell an effort that ultimately failed. Most of those efforts, and their slogans, are long forgotten. “Zigging,” and the idea it represents, lives on; it still suggests a viable strategy for succeeding in the multi-platform newsrooms of 2014.

And while mantras and metaphors can help rally a staff behind an idea or project, they also can be highly personal. Individuals adopt them to help make sense of their leadership, their editing, their reporting.

Marissa Nelson is senior director of digital media for CBC News. Recently we were talking about the challenges of leading her staff through major changes, including a significant reduction in personnel. She told me about her “mast.”

“I picture myself at the helm of a ship,” she said, “and I’m standing with my back up against the ship’s mast. It represents the values that are most important to me—integrity, empathy, fairness—and it reminds me that as we move forward, I need to be true to those values no matter what challenge we face.”

I asked her what role those values played in her management of the downsizing. She said she tried to bring empathy to the process, to remember that the situation was taking a human toll on her staff, and that she needed to deal with each person individually and with compassion.

In addition to standing for her values, Marissa said the “mast” also helps her from a strategic point of view, reminding her as the department moves forward to stay focused on the division’s goals and not to be buffeted off course.

Marissa’s story reminded me of several metaphors that helped me in my attempts to be an effective leader.

One of them helped me deal with the sense of depression I repeatedly experienced about three weeks after accepting a job with increased responsibility. Eventually I realized why. The depression coincided with my realization that no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t get my arms around the staff and its work. I could not control things.

Today I look back and realize it was actually good that I could not control everything—how are people supposed to grow if they’re manipulated like puppets? But I do remember the metaphor I used to describe my strategy for managing this “uncontrollable” operation.

I set out every day to touch it.

Each day I would try to engage my staff in ways that made a difference. Maybe I’d visit a bureau. Maybe I’d meet with a group working on enterprise. Maybe I’d have a difficult conversation. Or maybe I’d spend the morning with a colleague on the business side.

That was my daily challenge: How could I touch the organization in a way that would move us forward? If I chose well, I actually was having far more impact on the quality of our work than if I had assigned and edited every story.

The touch metaphor helped me.

Another metaphor helped me, like the “mast” helps Marissa, remember that values can play an important role in guiding a staff through difficult times of change.

For me, the metaphor was a bunch of rocks.

It was more than 20 years ago that I heard a Wharton professor describe how successful CEOs traditionally guided their organizations through times of change.

“Companies moved from periods of stability,” he said, “into the white water. And the best CEOS successfully guided their organizations through the white water, back to periods of stability.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he continued, “I need you to know one thing. For the rest of your careers, there will be nothing but white water.”

The professor didn’t know the half of it. In 1993, there were no iPods or tablets or smartphones. In fact, it had only been a few months since World Wide Web software had been placed in Public Domain. Imagine anyone suggesting today that we will return to periods of stability.

While last two decades of white water have given us many technological wonders—our ability to create and share journalism has never been greater—they also have made it difficult, if not impossible, for newsroom leaders to promise their staffs some once-basic things. Things like raises, promotions and even long-term employment.

So what can a leader promise a staff?

Values. You can promise your staff that together you will create journalism that is fair, accurate, independent and benefits the community. You can promise that together you will learn things that will benefit you now and if you go elsewhere. You can promise that together you will do work that has meaning.

And here’s the metaphor—those values are the rocks on which you cross the white water. I picture those rocks and remember the values I hold most dear.

Not everyone responds to metaphors; some people want facts, figures and a well-organized spreadsheet. But for as long as journalism has aspired to be a watchdog, shine a light and give voice to the voiceless, metaphors and mantras have served its leaders well.

Get ziggin’.

 

  Read more

Tools:
1 Comment

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Young businesswoman giving a presentation while her colleagues are listening to her

Four ways to be seen as a leader, even when you’re not in charge

In the past few years, I’ve worked with organizations as they identify and train emerging leaders. The goal is twofold: to let promising people know their contributions are valued and to increase their chances of success if they’re promoted to management.

So, what does it take to be considered an emerging leader? What are these people doing that sets them apart, not just in the eyes of their bosses, but also their peers?

It’s more than just being a workhorse or a “company person.” It’s really about influence; doing the kinds of things that cause people to feel better about the work when you’re on the team, and to choose to follow you when you offer suggestions or direction.

You may not want to be a manager, and that’s just fine.

But if you want to be a leader, a true person of influence, whether or not you’re in charge, here are four actions that get you there:

Offer solutions — with skin in the game.

Workplaces contain plenty of people who can describe problems. In detail. To anyone who will listen. They’re apt to include the words “somebody oughtta” in their complaints. Sadly, even though they may be right about the problems, their approach leaves them looking like whiners instead of winners.

By contrast, influential employees identify problems, take them to people in power, offer practical, thoughtful solutions, note their own role in whatever mess needs mending, and offer to take part in the repair work they suggest.  Telling your bosses that all’s not well can be risky when done wrong, but rewarding when you prove yourself to be the “loyal opposition.”

Think strategically — and keep learning.

If you’re seen as operating from a small silo while ignoring the organization’s big picture, you won’t be taken seriously. There’s nothing wrong with looking out for yourself or your team, but if you don’t also recognize the organization’s strategic goals, don’t pay attention to the business climate, and don’t align your ambitions with the company’s, you’re less likely to be seen as a leader.

At the same time, if you’re not interested in learning new skills as your business evolves or keeping updated on industry developments, your colleagues won’t count on you to do more than stagnate in the status quo while others lead change.

Share resources and information, but don’t be a doormat.

Research by Wharton’s Adam Grant says that “givers” — people who automatically look for ways to help others — tend to do well at work, unless they are so self-sacrificing that they’re taken advantage of and fail to effectively manage their own time and workload.  But when they get the balance right, they rock. Here’s how he described it in an interview with Fast Company about his book, “Give and Take”:

Leaders with a “taker” mentality often see others as a threat and avoid sharing their knowledge and expertise. “Giver” leaders indulge none of these fears and choose to be extremely generous with their time, expertise, and helping others succeed.

Extensive research reveals that people who give their time and knowledge to help colleagues and subordinates this way end up earning more promotions and raises. And when givers put a group’s interest ahead of themselves, they build much deeper relationships, and often become highly valued within their own organization.

Shift your emotional intelligence into high gear.

Influential employees are calm in the storm and resilient when things get tough. They read situations and people well, communicate with empathy and collaborate with ease. They don’t generate needless conflict and respond constructively when conflict is inevitable. These are hallmarks of emotional intelligence, which research shows is not only key to leadership success, but can be upgraded, if you choose to work at it.

In my newsroom, I liked to say that my goal was to hire “grownups of any age” — low drama, low maintenance, but high on talent, integrity and responsibility.  When that’s your reputation, you become a person of influence, regardless of your title.

You simply lead from wherever you are.

* * *

Leading from where you are may sound like it takes a lot of work.  True, but it pays dividend, too.  I explain in this companion podcast:

Read more

Tools:
4 Comments