OLD Media Moves

Reuters Adler: Great reporters don’t make great bosses

July 23, 2014

Posted by Chris Roush

Reuters editor in chief Stephen Adler posted the following message internally on Wednesday:

We all report to someone, and many of us have people reporting to us, so I suspect the topic of newsroom management — good, bad, and indifferent — is of interest to all of us.

The first thing to note is that managing in a news organization is quite different from managing in a typical corporate setting. Most journalists love nothing more than chasing, and nailing, a great story.  It’s thrilling, satisfying, unpredictable, and as fresh as the news itself.  In contrast, journalists are notoriously disdainful of process and bureaucracy, suspicious of authority, and uncomfortable with hierarchy. Becoming a manager is seldom the goal — and a promotion, however flattering and even lucrative, may mean less time doing journalism and more time attending meetings and making PowerPoint presentations. Hence, there’s often a good deal of ambivalence about rising through the ranks — an ambivalence less obvious in the corporate sphere.

Compounding the challenge for the newly promoted, many news organizations don’t provide much in the way of management training, assuming that great reporters will — presto — make great team leaders and that no special skills are required. Perhaps this is part of our charming egalitarianism and our penchant for living on the edge. And, of course, reporters, with their own well-honed suspicion of authority, are often none too keen on being managed, and have a way of making that perfectly clear.

The unfortunate result is that some new journalist-managers, having accepted a promotion with trepidation, fall back on what they know, and manage the stories that have been added to their remit rather than managing the teams that they now lead.

But what about the soft skills that are vital to being a good manager and essential to the well-being of everyone in the organization? Providing feedback, both positive and negative, apart from day-to-day coverage conversations? Listening to a team member’s complaints and ideas? Helping a direct report build necessary new skills? Discussing an employee’s career aspirations and helping chart an exciting path forward? Being aware of, and trying to accommodate, the individual’s family issues and other personal concerns?  These are all elements of good management that typically get short shrift in news organizations — and shouldn’t.

So what are we doing about it at Reuters?

  • Some of us have recently taken part in a culture-and-values training program in which you’ll all eventually participate.  It has been very helpful to me and other newsroom leaders in focusing on the soft skills. The training makes the case for offering more appreciation to our colleagues; giving feedback quickly, constructively, and honestly; assuming positive intent within the newsroom; and listening better and less judgmentally.  And it provides exercises that help build these skills — skills that are, of course, valuable to managers and non-managers alike. (Trust me, the training is better than I’m making it sound).
  • Also, new leadership training courses and several other initiatives targeted at developing our managers are underway at Reuters, in collaborating with our HR and Talent teams. Participants are working with mentors, taking management classes, getting more formal feedback, and practicing new skills outside their comfort zones. I’m hearing good things from people taking part. Opportunities such as this will be available to more leaders over time.
  • And we’re paying close attention to ensuring that managers have more information — about strategy, budgets, timings, usage data, and customer feedback — so that they can do their jobs better and share this information with their teams. If you’re a bureau chief or EIC, you have been getting these materials from me regularly since early in the year.

I had a boss once who did two special things that I’ll never forget and that epitomize management at its best. First, though he was very busy and often kept me waiting, once I got in his office he always gave me his complete attention, as if my concerns were the only things on his mind. That was enormously gratifying. And second, several times as I was gearing up to ask for a new assignment, he approached me first — and suggested it was time for me to try something new. It showed he had been thinking about me, and not just about my stories, and that he had taken the trouble to know me well enough to anticipate my needs before I brought them to his attention.

That’s the kind of manager we all want to have and — if we are newsroom leaders — to be.

Tell me what you think, and what else we can do to make this kind of management more of a reality at Reuters


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