Twenty Five Tips for Managing Changing Newsrooms

You’ve laid off staff. You’re doing more with less. You are introducing new technology and new tasks to your team. Your team members are uncertain about their future, trying their best to adapt to change but often edgy or discouraged.

Welcome to the life of today’s newsroom manager. It’s a job you took because you love journalism and wanted to make it better. You didn’t anticipate that managing this much change would take up so much of your time. Chances are, you’ve had little or no change management training, and right now you’re so busy keeping up you can’t imagine taking time out to learn new skills.

If that sounds like you, let me offer you a wealth of tips that will take just a few minutes of your time.

The tips come from 52 broadcast newsroom managers who attended a two-day workshop called “Tough Times, Smart Managers“– presented by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation. I helped coordinate and taught in the workshop. But, in keeping with my conviction that at any event like this, the wisdom is already in the room, I asked these front-line leaders to share their own tips for other managers.

Here are the tips they shared, in no particular order because they’re all worthwhile:

Hire slow, fire fast. Be thorough about whom you choose to hire for your team; do not let bad apples rot too long.

Seize the day. Sometimes we put things off — bad and good conversations. Keep the people as your focus.

Don’t let things wait. Keep people informed about change. Set expectations clearly. Ask for ideas from staff and, when you get them, help your staff put these ideas into practice.

Make connections with peers outside your station who do what you do. Network for good ideas, especially during change. Learn from others’ successes and failures.

To help you maintain perspective, connect with people outside the news business who can give you good advice.

Know one or two personal things about your employees, especially if you are managing a large group. Care about them as people and let it show.

Respond rather than react. Take time to work out a problem rather than just jumping to a conclusion.

Don’t forget about your top performers. They need attention, too.

Communicate the goals to those who are supposed to help you reach them. Don’t develop a culture of secrecy around your strategy and performance.

We have to allow ourselves to be human, but vent in the right places. Talk to someone in management who will push back, pat your back or just let you let off steam.

Lay out the mission, values and expectations. If people perform well during change, give them fun recognition that reminds people how well they met the goals. Get the staff involved in the recognition process.

Don’t forget the personal touch. When there’s a big event, effort or project, write personal notes to those who go above and beyond. Write them by hand. People are known to save them for years.

Do regular reviews after newscasts. Include non-newsroom minds and voices. Lay out objectives and measure against them.

Develop a mission statement for each program or project. Know for whom you are producing.

Show your humanity on a somewhat regular basis, so your empathy and encouragement are seen as genuine, not theatrical.

Be careful that you aren’t sending out mixed or wrong signals.

Stay organized. You need it now more than ever.

Deputize experts on your staff to help with training.

Better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

Sometimes we lose track of what we’re there for: Remember, we’re writing the first draft of history.

Remember the “it takes a village” approach to dealing with personnel issues. Expect people in the organization to hold each other accountable, rather than expecting only managers to handle things.

Be prepared to learn how to do new and different things in your workplace. Show people who are being asked to take new roles that you are learning things, too.

Empower the experts in the newsroom. Take one of your folks each month and invite him/her to do quick training. An investigative reporter teaches sourcing, a photographer teaches lighting. One station developed a list of 20 workshops based on the staff’s skills.

Learn some patience or learn to demonstrate patience.

Let me shout an “amen” to that, and add a final tip of my own — which you can see on this video:


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