OK. Let's be honest

The Cohort is Poynter's bi-monthly newsletter about women kicking ass in digital media. Starting today, we're syndicating issues here on Poynter.org.

To the occasional annoyance of my boss, coworkers and husband, I’m always seeking more guidance. I’m hungry for praise and constructive criticism — reassurance that my hard work is being noticed and advice on how to improve.

I know many people, especially high-achieving women, who feel the same way. We’re all looking for a pat on the back and want to know when and how we could be better.

Delivering that kind of feedback — a mix of reasonable encouragement and helpful criticism — takes practice. Management expert Kim Scott calls it “radical candor,” a concept that resonated widely among the badass lady leaders at Poynter last month. I’m great at giving praise, but tend to back down when it comes to offering criticism. And I’ve seen my share of tough-love bosses who head straight to critiquing, seemingly forgetting about those lovely, encouraging comments.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some radical candor lately at work, more criticism than praise. It’s admittedly tough to not react defensively. It’s easy to blame others or come up with excuses for certain behaviors.

But, the more I thought about the feedback, the more I realized that the colleagues who shared it did so because they’re invested in me and my improvement. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t have bothered to navigate a potentially difficult situation.

It’s notable, though, that I was more comfortable accepting and listening to the feedback that came from those with whom I have a relationship — colleagues who I believe care about me. Establishing trust and caring is key when it comes to radical candor. Otherwise, let’s be honest: Guidance that seemingly comes out of nowhere can seem artificial and awkward.

Scott says it’s our moral obligation as leaders to deliver radical candor. It’s on us to help our coworkers and direct reports improve and grow in their jobs, to share the good and bad. It’s also on us to take that feedback in stride when we’re on the receiving end. Let's stay rad, ladies.


Oh hey! This newsletter is now on Poynter.org. I’ll be dual-publishing issues on the site, which means The Cohort will reach a wider audience and there’s now a pretty archive available to explore older posts.

Also, my wonderful colleague Butch Ward — seriously, he’s the best — has some great advice on bridging the gap between millennials and newsroom veterans.

Things worth reading
A thought-provoking essay from The New York Times: “It doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.” There’s so much to dig into in Rebecca Traister’s excellent profile of Hillary Clinton. I really enjoyed this post from Lisa Waananen Jones on making a concerted effort to befriend, mentor and reach out to people who are unlike you. I’m guessing a lot of you have read The Washington Post’s article exploring why professional women put so much time/effort/money into getting ready, but it’s worth sharing again. It also reminds me that I need to restock on concealer.

Meet Jemma
I’ve long been a fan of "The Moth". I’m also a big believer in hackathons. And so, when Jemma Brown emailed me to tell me about a cool tool that "The Moth" has built, plus the hackathon they’re organizing, my reaction was something like: omg yess awesome jemma you’re so smart and my new best friend i love you

(My actual response was much more boring and professional.)

Jemma, who’s a digital media producer at "The Moth," is part of a team working to solve the problem of online audio discoverability. “It’s next to impossible to search or utilize audio archives without transcripts,” she explained. Together, they built an open-source tool to crowdsource corrections to computer-generated transcripts. It’s designed as a game, which is so so smart.

Now that the tool is live, they’re planning an audio hackathon on June 25-26. It would be fantastic if some Cohort readers wind up attending!

I asked Jemma a few additional questions about "The Moth" and her experience with radical candor:

Tell me about your favorite Moth story.

A favorite story is "Too Much" by Satori Shakoor. As a listener, I'm captivated by stories that pull me into the immediacy of the teller's emotions and end up somewhere totally different than where they started. I can hear in "Too Much" that the story is still very real for Satori. It hasn't calcified yet into a well-worn narrative. Since that one is heavy, I'll balance it out with the first Moth story that ever made me belly laugh, "Mariah and the Haunted Forest" by Kimya Dawson.

Why is audio discoverability on the web important? When and how did you all decide to tackle this problem?

Without rich metadata or transcripts, it's next to impossible to search audio collections online. At The Moth, we've recorded close to 20,000 stories and rely heavily on institutional memory to locate specific ones in our archive. Culturally, we're in a huge podcast boom right now with every major media organization investing in audio, but much of that content isn't transcribed because of obvious cost and time barriers. That means that a lot of incredible stories are being recorded and won't be retrievable.

We began talking with New York Public Library's Digital Labs last summer about collaborating on a project to tackle audio discoverability, and in the fall received a Knight Foundation Prototype Fund to build Together We Listen — the parent project of StoryScribe. Together We Listen is a tool that takes computer-generated transcripts made by Pop Up Archive and crowdsources corrections to them. Anyone can use the code base, and StoryScribe is the Moth-specific version of the tool. The best way to understand it is to try it out, plus this gives me a bonus opportunity to share another favorite story.

The audio hackathon sounds so fun! What do you hope to achieve during those two days?

We have some excellent partners joining us from different corners of the audio landscape including producers, journalists, data scientists, musicians and technologists. We're hoping to develop new ways to browse, create and share audio on the web. We're also interested in analyzing the transcripts to see what we can learn about story structure and human-computer interaction. We're accepting applications to attend on a rolling basis, you can apply here!

You described The Moth as a "primarily woman-powered organization." What have you learned about successfully working with other women?

I deeply respect my colleagues as workers and professionals but also as humans with a lot going on in their lives. We make an effort to show up for one another's performances, exhibitions, and out of office events. The most important thing I've learned about working with other women is to stop and say to one another, "I have your back."

This week’s newsletter is about radical candor. What’s the best tough-love advice you ever received in your career?

"Always be thinking about the long game." I love the phrase long game. It's a reminder to hold my cards and be strategic. This comes from my executive director who is an amazing leader and a living example of care personally/challenge directly. As one of the younger people on staff, I'm hard set on getting rid of ineffective systems, but she's taught me that that means waiting for the right moment, which isn't usually right this very minute.

The Cohort is part of the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. Props to the ever-radical Kristen Hare for her newsletter edits and insight.

  • Profile picture for user katiehawk

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar

    Katie Hawkins-Gaar is the organizer of Poynter’s Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. She was previously Poynter’s digital innovation faculty member, and taught journalists how to make the most of social media, understand audience engagement, rethink workflows and foster creativity.


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