New Year’s Resolutions For News Managers

A friend of mine is starting a new job today as a news director.  He’s one of the best managers I’ve worked for, so I figured this would be a good time to talk about what makes a good manager.  We’ve all worked for some great people and we’ve all worked for some horrible people.

Which one are you?  Are you sure?

Here’s a list of some common attributes I believe make a good manager and some goals to set for yourself at the start of this New Year.

Human being: I put this one first because it’s often the one that managers overlook.  It sounds obvious.  We’re all human, aren’t we?  In my experience, too many managers forget this.  Those are real people in that newsroom, real human beings out in the field working hard and covering stories for you.

  • Take a minute to get to know the people on your staff.  Schedule one-on-one meetings.  They don’t have to be long.  Just a few minutes to find out who they are as people.  A small investment that will pay dividends over the long run.
  • Show a sense of humor.  Some of the best people I’ve worked for have been the ones that I have genuinely enjoyed being around.  I think we’d all rather be around someone that makes us laugh rather than someone who is always yelling at us.  Sure, you have to take things seriously, but as a former news director of mine once said, this isn’t brain surgery and at the end of the day no one died.  Keep things in perspective and take a minute to laugh and have some fun.
  • Have fun.  I once worked with a news director who would hold a raffle every month.  All of the promotional items that got sent to the news desk by PR companies looking for coverage were given away to the staff.  My first month on the job I won tickets to a Broadway show that was in town.  It made a huge impression on me and showed me this was a special place to work.  Whether a monthly raffle or free pizza, a break from the routine will help improve morale.

Leadership:  This one seems pretty obvious too, but I am constantly amazed by the number of news managers who seem incapable of leading.  How many of us have worked for someone who gave vague directions, expected their staff to carry them out with little guidance or oversight, and then criticized people when things went wrong?  Leading is not just telling people what to do.

  • Show courage.  Managers have difficult decisions to make.  Don’t avoid them.  Too often, a manager will pass the buck to the people underneath them.  Be decisive, take some responsibility and make those tough calls.  People will respect you more when you do.
  • Empower your staff.  No one likes to work for a dictator or micro-manager.  While you should be willing to make the tough decisions, that doesn’t mean that you should make every decision.  Know which ones you can delegate and support the decisions your people make.  A good way to lose the trust of your staff is to undermine, second-guess and criticize everything they do.
  • Get out of your office.  It’s easy to get bogged down in day-to-day responsibilities and spend every day cloistered inside four walls.  Break out.  Vow to spend an hour a week in the newsroom, at the assignment desk or out in the field.  Sure, you’ll probably freak people out at first.  They’ll wonder why the boss is spying on them.  But seeing how a news producer puts together a rundown or how a photog covers a story will give you a better sense of the challenges they face every day and what you can do to help them.  You won’t learn this in your office.

Journalistic ethic:  You have this job for a reason.  You have proven you know how to cover news, how to be fair, how to be objective, when to be aggressive and when to hold back.  Lead by example and challenge your staff to follow your lead.  A good news director or manager should set the standard for the entire staff when it comes to journalistic principles. 

  • Push your people to go beyond just covering the headlines.  People can get the news whenever and wherever they want.  Give them more.  Too often, in the frantic world of television news, context and substance are sacrificed at the expense of flash and sensationalism.  Cover more than just the ‘who’ and ‘what’.  Those are easy.  Make sure you include the ‘why’.
  • Think outside of the box.  Too often we are constrained by the idea that everything needs to be fast-paced.  Sometimes a story needs more time produce or more time to breathe.  Identify those stories that may take longer to dig into or more on-air time to tell.  Long-form investigative pieces and feature stories are often cut to make room for mediocre stories that you can tell in less than 90 seconds.  Push your staff to do some old-fashioned journalism.
  • Provide feedback.  When you see an example of good work, whether it’s a reporter package or an entire newscast, highlight it.  Let that person know and use it as an example to the staff of what you expect from everyone.

Vision:  I once worked for a manager who was asked a simple question at a station-wide staff meeting: “What do we stand for?”  Other stations in the market had clear and definable brands: the station to turn to for breaking news, the legacy station with a strong journalistic background, etc.  He was stumped. A good manager should be able to clearly say “This is who we are, and this is who we are not.”

  • Challenge yourself.  What does your news operation stand for?  Can you put it in a sentence?  Certainly your news product should be more than just a snazzy slogan, but a clearly defined mission statement will be the North Star you can follow through turmoil and uncertainty.
  • Share your vision.  It’s not enough to just have a vision for your operation; you also have to share it with the people who will be putting it in motion.  This means clearly communicating your ideas, setting goals and reviewing your progress.
  • Be creative.  A leader with vision also brings a level of creativity to the table and will encourage their staff to do the same.  Never settle for doing what you have always done.  Is there a better way?  A different way?  Find new ways of covering the same, old story and encourage your staff to do the same.  You will be surprised by the results.

By no means is this a complete list.  Rather, these are just some qualities that many managers sometimes forget in the frenzy of day-to-day news coverage.  Take a hard look at yourself and find just one that you feel you need to work on, then set that as your goal for the New Year.

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