July 26, 2002

By Lillian Dunlap

During a recent Poynter seminar, some print and broadcast news managers blamed their strained relations with people in advertising on the cultural distance between them. The managers described people on the business side as having very different values and goals from their own.

I asked if any of them knew anybody in advertising.

Guess what? No one in the room had a personal relationship with a person that sells space or time.

It’s true that the editorial and business parts of news organizations often collide. The editorial side is guided by journalistic principles. The business side pays more attention to profit and loss. But, while the tension between the sides is real, it’s those individual relationships that help each understand better the decisions the other side makes.

The news managers said that their willingness to believe the group stereotypes kept them from forming relationships with individuals on the business side.

So what has to happen to help us talk across our differences?

The seminar participants created a list. They said they need to trust the other person, to share respect, to sense that the person also wants to learn and to know that the conversation will not be a one-shot deal.

As managers you’re in great position to model this learning behavior for others in the newsroom. You can be seen talking comfortably with people different from you. You can also lead the newsroom in asking questions and involving a diversity of people in decision making.

The Poynter ethics/diversity faculty offers these general guidelines to get you started on your conversations across difference:

1. Be honest. Be candid. Be willing to reveal information about yourself and your ideas.

2. Seek to understand. Ask questions rather than make statements. Be genuinely interested in the other person. Bring an open mind.

3. Be willing to change your mind. Be ready to trade in stereotypes for new information.

4. Stay in the conversation. Show that you want to continue learning through comfortable and uncomfortable times.

The seminar folks left their session with plans to take a sales representative to lunch or out for coffee. They decided to get better informed about who their business people really are.

As you think about resolutions for 2002, consider making this the year that you develop more relationships with people different from you. As a news manager, don’t stop with just improving your relationships with people in advertising. Continue to educate and get educated about the diversity of people, cultures, traditions, and orientations that make up your organization and help to shape your news.

Close the distance. Enjoy the learning.

Happy holidays, everybody!

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