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.
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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014

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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. Read more

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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. Read more

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Bias Getting Over Unfair Treatment Racism Prejudice

6 dangerous biases of bosses

Integrity is the cornerstone of leadership.  For managers, intelligence — both cognitive and emotional — is important. But research says that employees rate trustworthiness as more important than competence in their managers.

I think that’s because so many managers lead people who are smarter than they are. The staff doesn’t expect the boss to be a genius; they want a supervisor they can trust.

Trust is confidence, in the face of risk, that another person will act with integrity. Tell the truth. Share credit. Take blame. Make decisions based on values. Reject prejudice.

We earn the trust of our team over time. But it takes vigilance to maintain it, even if we have the best of intentions. That’s because we tend to overestimate our own abilities and think we’re more reliable or principled than we really are.

We have blind spots and biases that can erode trust. We often discover that the hard way, through an obvious mistake or from candid feedback about our shortcomings. Read more

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Poynter to host forum discussing leadership of women in media

The Poynter Institute announced Thursday that it will co-host a national forum focusing on the issues surrounding women in journalism and media leadership.

The forum, which will be held in partnership with the National Press Club Journalism Institute, will focus on the current conversation about newsroom culture as it pertains to women, which was invigorated by the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Read more

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

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5 reasons managers are addicted to “fixing” – and how to recover

I admit it. I’m a recovering fixer. Show me a piece of copy and my fingers get itchy. I crave contact with a keyboard, with a gnawing urge to tweak someone’s writing a little — or maybe a lot.

Then I remind myself of the pledge I took years ago:

“Remember, Jill. Sit on your hands. Coach, don’t fix.”

I adopted that mantra so I’d have to learn how to help my newsroom staff improve their work without taking away their ownership, responsibility, and too often, their pride in performance. I’d have to learn to teach, not just do. Moreover, I’d need to teach in a way that would help people discover ideas and approaches for themselves, instead of just following instructions from the boss.

Now, in my leadership workshops, when I identify myself as a recovering fixer, I ask if there are any others like me in the room. Read more

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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Manager, Interrupted: How to trade all of that multi-tasking for some real focus

Multitasking at work. (Flickr Photo by Jonathan Blundell/ https://flic.kr/p/7bnUSk)

It’s 3:00 p.m. You’re sitting at your desk, trying to edit and file to the web the six paragraphs on your computer screen, a breaking account of the fire that has reduced downtown traffic to a crawl.

Your phone rings. The reporter at the fire wants to add a sentence about a new detour. You take the information and add it. Back to editing. Your mobile phone buzzes. It’s a news alert: the mayor has decided not to seek reelection. Then the phone rings. The city government reporter has the news about the mayor. Tweet it, you tell her, then file three paragraphs for the web and call back to discuss a follow-up. You forward the news alert to the news and web desks to let them know what’s coming.

Back to the fire story. It’s 3:06 p.m. Your phone rings. It’s a reporter who wants to take next Friday off…

For the newsroom manager, the workday can seem like a relentless string of interruptions. Read more

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

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Virtual Newsroom: getting journalism done in a digital age

At this moment, I am at my dining room table in Los Angeles with two laptops, a cellphone and an iPad. I work with staff writers who live in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and just outside of Tampa. I also talk virtually with Poynter faculty, adjunct faculty and freelancers who write for us, some of whom live in Florida, but some who do not.

As the future of news is still inventing itself and the nature of news remains in transition, there’s one thing we can say definitively: We’re no longer working the way we did 10, 5 or even 2 years ago.

With technology, we can — and do — report on the news at greater speeds and larger volume. The Web, cell phones, tablets, wearables, and other devices allow us to give audiences what they want, when they want it, and how they want it.

Downsizing of staff, added work duties, reduction and relocation of workspaces and other expense cuts are also contributing to the upheaval that thousands of journalists have endured in recent years. Read more

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

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So what the heck IS a good management style, anyway?

There are no perfect managers. Not Jill Abramson. Not Dean Baquet. Certainly not Jill Geisler when she ran a newsroom, and she’s now a leadership teacher, for heaven’s sake.

Every manager has strengths and challenges. And on any given day, you, as a boss, will disappoint someone.

You hire and promote people while rejecting others. You accept and advance one person’s idea but pass on someone else’s. You hold people accountable for quality and performance. You force them out of their comfort zones to learn new things (Hello, digital age.)  In tough economic times, you cancel projects they love, freeze or cut their salaries and lay off their talented friends.

And if you’re like most people, you do all that with little or no training in how to lead a team. Your training was in journalism, or in whatever craft in which you performed well enough for your bosses to say, “We like what you do, so how ’bout we put you in charge of that work?”

But you don’t just manage work. Read more

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

In this Oct. 18, 2011 photo, traffic passes the New York Times building, Tuesday, in New York.  The New York Times Co. stock rose sharply on Thursday, July 26, 2012 after the media company reported that second-quarter revenue increased more than expected.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

New York Times’ Sulzberger took a risk; how about one more?

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s latest statement is a far cry from the May 14 New York Times news release about Jill Abramson’s departure, a missive that seems almost comically cordial now. Then, Sulzberger expressed his “sincere thanks” to her and she, in turn, thanked him for “the chance to serve,” calling him “a steadfast protector of our journalism.”

Addressing the staff that same day, Sulzberger would only describe the reason for the editor’s departure as “an issue with management in the newsroom.

Jill Abramson was gone and remained silent. Sulzberger thought he had said enough. But reports about the backstory surfaced from diggers like NPR’s David Folkenflik and The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta. The focus then turned, in large measure, to questions about compensation (was she the victim of pay discrimination?), style (was she really so tough to work for — and with?), the handling of her departure (why did it seem so cold-blooded?) and sexism (isn’t this just another example of women being sanctioned for behaviors that are valued in men?)

Then the world began to weigh in, with opinion pieces aplenty, including Poynter’s own, in which my colleague Kelly McBride and I both talked about the need for greater Times transparency about the firing. Read more

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