August 19, 2002

I try to limit myself to one sports analogy column per year. But Sunday’s Super Bowl was so spiced with leadership lessons, I just can’t let it pass by.

The Patriots chose to be introduced as a team, not as individuals. Can you imagine the temptation to hear your name called out to tens of millions of fans worldwide? The spotlight would blaze down on your face. The throngs would cheer you. The Rams chose that introduction. The Patriots chose to be introduced en-mass, as one team.

Newsrooms often say they are about teamwork, but they reward individual achievement. Your culture grows from what you reward. Think about it — if your newsroom had been playing last night, would it have been introduced as a team, or as individuals? How prominently would the coaching staff have featured? Would you have allowed the players to have the spotlight as you trotted to the sideline to do your work?

Coaches do their most important work before game day. They teach. They inspire. They build playbooks for different scenarios. They learn from the last time that they faced each circumstance. The last time they played, the Rams destroyed the Patriots because the Patriots tried to rush the quarterback. This time, they spent more of their energy covering the receivers. It was a starkly different strategy.

How tempting it must be for coaches to walk out on the field and play the game when time is tight and the score grows close. How tempting it is for newsroom managers to try to write the stories, micromanage the coverage and score the last-second field goal themselves when deadlines come crashing down.

Even the commercials taught great management lessons last night. The Lipton Tea ad was built around the idea that Lipton had developed a tea that was so good that “it would sell itself.” The company decided it didn’t need any more advertising. A lot of newspapers, television stations, and online sites have developed this idea, especially when profits go soft.

Good ideas do not sell themselves. In fact, some of the best ideas that deviate from the accepted norm are rejected when they are first introduced. Leaders understand that journalism business plans involve key components: 1) the content, 2) the marketing and sales, 3) the distribution, 4) performance analysis, and 5) innovation.

I was struck by the fact that and HotJobs bought Super Bowl ads. These two companies and other even more narrowly-marketed online job services are eating newspaper classified pages. Why didn’t newspaper companies or Broadcast media companies invent something like Monster? Why are traditional media companies standing on the sidelines while these online companies grab what once was about 15% of a newspaper’s income?

With seconds ticking off the clock, no timeouts left, no opportunity to ask the coach what to do; with the game and sports history in the balance, the Patriots quickly lined up and allowed their quarterback, Tom Brady, to take a snap and “down” the ball. That stopped the clock and bought time to breathe.

The discipline to get lined up was the product of great coaching. That game could have been lost, or at least sent into overtime, if the team had not been so focused on getting their work done even in chaos. How does your team act when seconds matter, when chaos closes in? Newsroom leaders should pay careful attention to how they lead in those moments. Your team will reflect your actions.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

More News

Back to News