This is not an exit

Your staff will make deadline if you cut the bullshit

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2011 at 9:09 am

Note: This is the second in a series of convention notes from the Associated Collegiate Press’ conference in Los Angeles March 3-6.

Jorge Medina has five words to keep in mind in order to run an efficient newsroom: integrity, accountability, leadership, responsibility and communication. The Orange County Register designer has seen fellow reporters and editors lose their jobs because they couldn’t adhere to these values.

Let’s just fire down the list, shall we?

Integrity

When it comes to integrity, Medina says you’ve got to treat your deadlines as a promise. Consider your staff as though they’re your family and be straight with them. He emphasized over and over that if you see something you don’t like, speak up right away. Don’t hide the problems that your newsroom faces; this will only cause those issues to manifest and grow. You’re also short-changing them by doing so. Don’t expect your reporters and editors to get better at their jobs if you’re not showing them what they’re doing wrong.

Treat your newsroom the same way you would any other place of employment. I do my best to maintain a professional atmosphere at The Torch. I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that you’ve got to dress for the job you want, not the job you have and professional etiquette is no different. If you want to end up at The Oregonian, act like it.

Accountability

When it comes to missing deadline, there are reasons and there are excuses. These two words have different definitions in the dictionary, but they both lead your staff down the same road.

Reporters and editors need to be accountable for their work. There’s no reason for a reporter to miss a reasonable deadline. There’s also no reason anyone should be considered a lost cause if they earnestly want to learn the craft.

For starters, there are two reasons why a reporter will fail: either the editor isn’t taking every opportunity to teach him or her how to effectively manage their time or the reporter isn’t putting forth the effort to learn. You’ve got to know your role and live up to your title.

An editor’s job is to make sure their reporters have all the tools they’ll need in order to be successful. An editor-in-chief is accountable for ensuring his or her editors have everything they need to be successful.

A frequent mistake many staff members at newspapers — especially college newspapers — make is that they take on too much. In order to be an effective leader, you need to know how big your plate is and try to manage the how much you’re piling on.

If you’re overwhelmed, speak up. Not only will your editor appreciate the fact that you know your limits, but it will give somebody else an opportunity to step up and contribute to the process. It should go without saying that you don’t want to delegate all your tasks away. Otherwise you’re just the guy who’s making money for nothing and when it comes time to hand out pink slips these folks are the first to go.

If I had one especially valuable take-away from Medina’s lecture, it’s the idea of accountability buddies. It may sound a tad juvenile, but when you breed a newsroom culture where everyone is watching out for everyone else, you help your staff grow closer and instill a deeper sense of duty within them.

Leadership

Leaders kill excuses, not make them. Handle yourself powerfully in the newsroom and assert your role, whether you’re a reporter, editor, photographer or designer.

Take on each of your duties head on and have no fear. They say trying is the first step toward failure, but failure is also the first step toward success. Nobody ever learned anything by being right all the time. Then again, nobody is ever right 100 percent of the time, but that’s beside the point.

Assure people that they’re capable of pulling off the deadline. There’s nothing more inspiring than knowing somebody else believes in you. Football players have cheerleaders for a reason; give your staff somebody on staff they can depend on for support.

The toughest thing about being a leader is knowing how to inspire people rather than command them. Remember: Your reporters, photographers and designers have goals and an agenda they want to fulfill by working for the newspaper. Don’t take that to mean they’re selfish; you’ve got your own reasons for being on staff as well, right?

The most effective leaders are the ones who make a point of ensuring the folks they’re working with are getting something out of the experience.

Responsibility

Make the right choices, even when nobody is looking. On a college newspaper staff, it’s much easier said than done. If somebody misses a deadline because of a heavy class load, that’s a perfectly good excuse, right? After all, it’s not like your readers knew you were planning to run a story about the leaky water pipes in the gym.

This is the kind of attitude that leads to consistently missed deadlines. I’m not going to lie: this is the biggest area my newspaper staff needs to focus on. Hearing it like this from Medina has got me thinking of ways to take care of it.

The most effective way to combat missed deadlines is to make sure your reporters have a process in place. If your deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, there should be no question as to what needs to be accomplished by then. Work backward from it. If you’ve got to hand a completed story to your editor, what does that mean? Help your reporters plot a timeline for the sequence of events that needs to take place before final completion of the assignment.

Communication

The most effective people in your newsroom are the ones who know exactly what they want and can express their ideas coherently. These folks will also keep very few things to themselves.

It’s important for reporters to get constant feedback from their editors. Just as you should treat your news staff as a family, communicate with them accordingly. Don’t bullshit your staff: if they’re doing something wrong, call them out on it.

By letting things slide, you’re sending the mood in the newsroom. If a reporter misses deadline and you keep quiet, that person is now under the impression that their behavior is acceptable. It’s not out of line for a boss to tell people when they’re doing something wrong.

Concurrently, don’t forget to recognize people when they’re doing well. You’re not a leader so you can boss people around, you’re there to tell them the truth and help them improve. If you’re honest with your staff, you’ll have their respect.

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