Leadership & Management

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Eight lessons learned from a former journalist’s job search

As the AARP solicitations in my mailbox arrive with ever-increasing frequency, I am reminded of something a friend once told me about our aging: “When the rock starts rolling downhill, it picks up speed.”

Whooosh!

Next month I’ll mark my 10th anniversary as a member of Poynter’s faculty, and in addition to wondering where that decade went (and, by the way, when did Paul McCartney get to be 72?), I find myself thinking about how this gig has fit into the journey we call a career.

My resume: Journalist, 27 years. VP of Communications, 3 years; journalism teacher, 10 years.

The jobs are, in many ways, very different. But each one gave me the opportunity to try something new, to learn from talented and, often, inspirational people, and to contribute something I care about passionately: giving people the information and meaning they need to live better lives.

job-searchOften, I tell people who ask about my career that I’ve been blessed. And I have. I also recall, however, the point in that resume when I spent many months looking for work—just as many journalists and other professionals are looking today. Some, like me, chose to part ways with their organizations, and some had no choice in the matter.

Many of us have one thing in common: We never expected to be out of work.

Eight years ago, I wrote a column about my transition from journalist to PR professional, and some of the lessons I learned about how to approach a job search – especially when it involves changing your line of work. Are they original? I doubt it. But none of them had mattered to me until that day when I thought about not being able to contribute to my family’s well-being.

Here’s a short list of the things I learned:

Truth 1: The process takes time. Some people are lucky; they leave a job on Friday and start another on Monday. Most do not. I needed almost six months (thankfully, I had a buyout check in my pocket.) But planning for a lengthy process increases the likelihood that you’ll create a plan for your search.

Truth 2: Your resume is important, but the people you know are more important. In an age when it’s way-too-easy to submit your job application and resume online, differentiating yourself from the crowd often involves someone’s personal intervention. You need to know people. If you don’t, you need to meet them.

Networking is not a cliché. It matters. When I decided to leave The Inquirer after almost 20 years, I also decided to look for a job outside journalism. First stop was my contact list (okay, we called it a Rolodex back then, but I’m trying not to date myself too badly.) I had hundreds of phone numbers and email addresses, but they were all for journalists. I needed a different source list if I was to find a non-journalism job.

That’s why my plan’s first objective was to build a network. For the first few months of my search, my goal each day was either to talk with a new contact about my future, or to arrange a meeting with one.

How did I arrange to meet them? Two ways, referrals and chutzpah.

Sometimes I would ask a friend to introduce me to someone whom I considered creative or well-connected, or both. And sometimes I would simply call or write to people I wanted to know and ask them for a meeting. Both approaches worked.

Call people you don’t think will talk with you. This is where being a journalist served me well. While many job seekers might hesitate to call people who help run universities, sports franchises, big companies and other organizations, journalists routinely seek interviews with people in positions of power and influence. It impressed me how many of those people said yes, I’d be happy to talk with you.

When I called someone I didn’t know, here was the gist of my request:

Hi, my name is Butch Ward, and I’ve recently left my job as Managing Editor of the Inquirer. I’m exploring possibilities for taking my career in a new direction, and I believe you are someone who could help me think through the possibilities. I promise not to ask you for a job. I would just appreciate a half-hour of your time.

During the four or five months that I spent building a network, I made that pitch at least 20 times. Only one person told me she was too busy to talk with me. The others, along with the people I met through referrals, not only gave generously of their time and ideas, they invariably suggested someone else I should meet—and offered to introduce me.

So don’t be afraid to ask.

Just get a job. When I left the Inquirer, I was almost 50 and had spent my entire career with two companies. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but PR was not on my list. After five months of looking without success, though, I realized that I was being really picky—looking for the perfect job I could ride into retirement.

That’s when I realized I should just get a job. If it didn’t work out, I’d have to look for another one—but I’d be working from a better starting point:

It’s easier to find a job when you’re employed than when you have to explain to someone why you’re not.

That’s when I considered business communications, or PR—but not just any PR.

Try to honor your values. Two factors convinced me to take the communications job I was offered at Independence Blue Cross. First, one of my closest friends had worked there for almost 10 years and believed in the company. I trusted his values.

The second was that working in one of the major sectors in America’s health care debate appealed to the part of me that wants to do work that matters. It seemed to me that my ability to invest myself fully in the new work would be enhanced if I believed in its value. And that proved to be right.

So think: What are the values you want a new job to embody? Can you balance them with your need to find work that helps you fulfill the responsibilities in your life?

Talk with everyone—and anyone. In the beginning, I believed that my challenge was simple: I needed a job, and I, Butch Ward, needed to find it. But as time went on, I realized that success might occur because I stayed open to letting a job find me. That realization led me to share my story with many more people in my life.

Other parents on the soccer field. A friend at church. Relatives.

Some offered ideas. Some offered words of support. And some asked questions or offered opinions that helped me to broaden my search or challenge my assumptions (about jobs in PR, for example).

As a group, they helped me wrestle with the questions that guided my search:

  • What jobs was I qualified to do?
  • What kinds of work could interest me and address my passions?
  • Who could help me answer these questions?

Nourish your life. Without a doubt, the best part about being out of work for a long time was the opportunity to participate more fully in the other aspects of my life. I saw all of my daughter’s high school soccer games. I saw more of my wife and our friends. I tackled some projects at home. Truth is, I had needed to pay more attention to these areas while I was employed, and my hiatus from work helped me recommit to doing better with work-life balance in the future.

But for the time being, the non-work part of my life helped carry me through a period of my life when I needed to feel valued and productive.

Eventually, my search led to a networking meeting with a man at Independence Blue Cross who was about to retire—and told me I should apply for his job. He introduced me to his boss, and within a few weeks, I accepted an offer. (My friend at IBC stayed out of the process, so as not to prejudice it. That was his way of saying he believed in me.)

If you are one of those journalists who find yourself out of work, I hope at least two things buoy you during your search: a belief in yourself, and the belief that others have in you. I also hope that you make at least one more discovery: people want to help you. Some may not have a job to offer, but they might have ideas, or questions, or support.

They want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask.

And believe this: All will be well. Read more

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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

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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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Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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Leaders change lives, thanks Jim Mutscheller

JimMutscheller-300It was April of 1973, and I was about to spend my last summer as a college student water-proofing basements.

An English major about to enter my senior year, I only recently had decided I might like to work for a newspaper, but my applications for internships at Baltimore’s dailies – the Sunpapers and The News American – had been rejected.

A summer of digging in wet basements awaited.

Then I took a ride on an elevator with the former pro football player.

Jim Mutscheller had just spoken at a Notre Dame Club of Maryland luncheon at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. A graduate of ND in 1952, he had gone on to play tight end for the Baltimore Colts—and Number 84 had become a hero on my team of boyhood heroes.

He introduced himself to me following lunch as we were waiting for the Down elevator. Once on board, Jim asked what I planned to do with my summer. In the span of a dozen or so floors, I told him about my dashed journalism hopes and looming waterproofing career.

“I know someone over at The News American,” he said. “Let me make a call.”

I have never seen Jim Mutscheller again.

Three days later, I received a call from John Steadman, sports editor at the News. He said an internship had just opened and he’d like to meet me. Within a week, the managing editor offered me an internship on the City Desk. A year later, I joined the staff.

More than 40 years later, on this Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about how a man in an elevator changed the direction of my life.

But Thanksgiving strikes me as one of those opportunities to choose between simple gratitude and something more. I can be grateful for Jim Mutscheller — which is a good thing — or I can go further and emulate Jim Mutscheller. Over and over in my life, people went further. Often they were in positions of leadership. And because of that, they influenced the kind of leader I want to be.

A leader who “makes a call.”

Who needs you to “make a call” for them?

By the time I was 21 and took that elevator ride, many people had helped move my life along its trajectory. Parents, teachers, clergy, friends. At each point, of course, I got to choose what I would make of their efforts — just like I got to decide what to make of that first internship. But the undeniable fact is that someone’s willingness to “make a call” on my behalf took my life in a direction it otherwise might not have taken.

Today, I not only look back on Jim Mutscheller; I look back on bosses who took chances on me. On more than 30 men and women in Philadelphia – almost all of them strangers – who generously responded to my individual requests for their time and advice when I was out of work in 2001. On a Poynter president who believed I could teach.

They all “made calls” for me.

I also think back to the managers at The News American who in 1981, following the layoff of 30 people—20 percent of the staff—holed up in offices for days and called editors all over the country, trying to find jobs for their unemployed colleagues. That scene has been replicated many times in many newsrooms in the years since, and it always moves me.

It also reminds me that those of us blessed with positions of leadership or influence or celebrity have opportunities that we get to act upon or ignore. Note I said “opportunities,” not “responsibilities.”

We have a responsibility to manage work and the staff that does it.

We have opportunities to do much more—sometimes, to influence lives.

Who needs you to “make a call” for them? Who is struggling with a beat, a new and unrequested job assignment, a life change? Who left your staff for a job outside journalism a year ago and could use someone to check in? Who is out there looking for a job, maybe for months now, and is really scared?

Sometimes the people who need us ask for our help. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they can’t.

I didn’t ask Jim Mutscheller for help. He just chose to offer it. And he helped to change the direction of my life.

Who’s about to get into an elevator with you?

Seize the opportunity. Make the call.

 

 

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Monday, Nov. 03, 2014

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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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Sunday, Oct. 05, 2014

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

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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

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Monday, Sep. 29, 2014

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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

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Friday, Sep. 26, 2014

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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 do 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 for The Boston Globe. Jenkins is an award-winning photographer and has a law degree from Boston University. Read more

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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

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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

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