Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mailbag: Companies that are "meeting happy"

Grape,

It seems my ND is always in meetings or conference calls. Most of the time when he returns to the newsroom he has a pained look on his face. Can you give us an idea as to what happens during these affairs?


Well, if there's one thing I don't miss about management, its meetings. And if you work for a "meeting happy" company, you can waste a ton of time accomplishing absolutely nothing.

Meetings fall into two categories; department head meetings and conference calls, usually headed up by some corporate poobah who has never set foot in a newsroom but thinks he knows the business. Here's what happens in a nutshell.

-Department head meetings. Most stations do these every two weeks but some like to hold them weekly. So all the department heads gather in a conference room and brace themselves for a flogging. You generally go around the room and managers talk about what's going on in his or her department. Sales might talk about new clients, production might talk about the new weather set, etc. Sadly, news, with the biggest department, only has one representative (it aint exactly an electoral college) and the ND usually gets hit from all sides about what happened or what isn't happening. Other department heads (usually who know nothing about the news business either) always want to chime in about coverage. It's a tongue-biting exercise when someone like a traffic manager rips you over a story you aired. Most NDs dread these. I did work for one station in which the GM ran a positive meeting, and there was a healthy exchange of ideas, but those are rare.

-Conference calls. Oh, if these were video conference calls a whole bunch of managers would be fired because corporate could see us not paying attention. Many times these are run by a beancounter or corporate flack who wants to impose some new mandate on the group's news managers. So you dial in (and this part is really important) you hit the "mute" button on the phone so that the person running the meeting can't hear your real thoughts.

The people who participate in these calls fall into two categories; the brown nosing suck-ups, who feel the need to chime in every two minutes to pat the boss on the back and offer even more suggestions; and the "mute button" group that chimes in at least once to let the world know you're actually there. Members of the mute button group will have the speakerphone on while filling out paperwork, playing computer solitaire, or reading the sports page because more often that not the information being passed on is totally useless. But you still have to throw in a "yeah, great idea" every once in awhile to keep your job.

So if your ND is a blue meanie after one of these, now you know why.

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