I once worked with a photographer who had a New York sense of sarcasm even though he grew up in a small town. One day, fed up with the way management was treating us, he put the following on the newsroom bulletin board:
"The beatings will continue until morale improves."
While that sign got a lot of laughs, it also spoke volumes.
got into the business in the early 1980's, and newsrooms were actually a
lot of fun. Of course I wasn't paid much and had a second job
moonlighting as a public address announcer for the local minor league
baseball team. But there was a team spirit in those newsrooms, not the
"us versus them" concept which pits the rank and file against management
these days; or the more damaging scenario of late, producers against everyone. If your career now feels like a job, you're in one
of those newsrooms.
Of course it is easy to blame the
atmosphere today on money. TV is not the cash cow it used to be. Still,
no excuse for treating people badly whether they are your subordinates
But let's not throw all the darts at management.
Anchors & reporters are as good with knives as those guys at the
circus. I worked at one place where you could walk down the hall and end
up with enough cutlery in your back to host a dinner party.
was once a terrific News Director named Carole Kneeland who coined the
phrase "it is never the wrong time to do the right thing." Sadly, Carole
passed away at a young age. But if you apply that one phrase to
everyday stuff in your newsroom, just watch what happens.
no particular order, here are ten things you can do to make your world a
happier place. Some for managers, some not. By the way, none of these
have anything to do with money since we can't realistically change that.
And some concern people in other departments. (So you'll just have to
slide this under their doors.)
internally. The competition is across the street, not in your own
newsroom. I once worked as a manager at a station in which a main anchor
submitted his resignation. "Just watch," my supervisor told me, "within
an hour you'll have every candidate in your office. They'll eat their
young to get the job." Sure enough, the parade started that afternoon.
What amazed me is that every person coming into my office took a cheap
shot at someone else in the newsroom who also wanted the job. Trying to
make a co-worker look bad does two things; it makes you look bad, and
someday it will come back to haunt you. Ten years down the road you may
be applying for a job and the co-worker you stabbed in the back might be
working at that station. Think you'll get a good reference?
don't hate the person who got the job for which you applied. I hear
this constantly from anchors who were hired from outside the station.
Those who simply assumed the ND would promote from within give the new
person the freeze-out, making the new person feel as unwelcome as a case
of the flu. Be an adult. The new person might be a valuable friend in
9-Creative people don't punch a clock.
There are bean counters at every station who make a big deal out of news
people taking an occasional long lunch, leaving early, reading at their
desks, etc. Once when I was a reporter a manager told me "You news
people are always laughing back there. You need to get to work." (Oh,
sorry, I didn't get the memo that we were all supposed to be miserable.)
If we'd wanted to work on an assembly line we'd have done so. A
creative person cannot "turn it on" for ten straight hours. Sometimes it
may look like we're just relaxing but trust me, the wheels are always
turning upstairs. Don't forget there are plenty of times we're off the
clock when we're at home working on stories, talking to contacts, etc.
Sometimes we need to talk baseball, play a practical joke, plan a party.
Remember, it is the end result which hits the air that counts. Does it
really make a difference if that great package took twelve hours or two?
If people in the newsroom actually enjoy each others company? Go count
your beans and leave us alone.
8-Before you yell at
someone in front of the whole newsroom, stop for a moment and imagine
how your loved ones would feel if they saw you. And if you're an
on-camera person, imagine what your viewers would think. I've worked for
some people who were so mean at work I could never imagine them with a
spouse and children. (Many had neither, so my instincts on this were
7- The assignment editor is not
your mother. Sadly, the morning meeting in many stations is backwards.
People look to see what the assignment editor has instead of pitching
enterprise stories. You end up with a press release and police scanner
newscast. Every news staff member should bring story ideas everyday.
Start your meeting with story ideas, then finish with what the
assignment editor has that must be covered. You'll end up with a better
newscast. You also don't tend to complain about stories you're assigned
if they are your own.
And speaking of content, stop
chasing car wrecks. They aren't news. Photogs don't want to shoot them,
reporters don't want to cover them. They are video wallpaper. After
awhile the viewer doesn't even see them. The police scanner is an easy
crutch because you don't have to look for stories. Don't burn out your
creative people on stuff like this. People die everyday, but we don't
cover the man who died falling down the stairs, do we? Ever wonder why
local news viewership has been in decline for years? You're giving
viewers the same parade of death and destruction every single night. Put
real stories in your newscast and see your staff get challenged again. I
once worked for a number one station that never, ever chased a car
wreck. Trust me, quality works. Once the viewers discover you're doing
real news, they'll stick around.
people who look for jobs. I swear some managers have developed resume
tape sniffing dogs that patrol edit booths on nights and weekends. ("You
ingrate! How dare you look for a job when I pay you eighteen thousand a
year!") Guess what? It is the nature of people to want to better
themselves. It is the nature of business, especially this one, to want
to move up the ladder. Wanna know why your people don't trust you? Knock
off the "Big Brother" act and stop employing CSI teams to investigate
your own staff.
5-Reverse roles. Ours is a very unusual
business in that we often put very young people in supervisory
positions over veterans. You end up with a 22-year-old producer giving
orders to a 40-year-old reporter. Over the past ten years I've seen a
resentment build between producers and field crews. The problems are
two-fold. Producers who have never worked in the field have no idea what
goes on there, and field crews who have never produced can't understand
another point of view. Producers should spend a day in the field once
in awhile with a crew. Field crews might spend a day with a producer.
Walk in the other guy's shoes and you might have a better understanding
of the other guy and his job.
4-Don't let power go to
your head. This is probably the biggest problem in newsrooms. If you're a
News Director, you have the ability to, in effect, sometimes play God.
You are dealing with people's lives, affecting their families, helping
or hurting their careers. Be honest with your people. And please, once
and for all, get rid of the "let's make him miserable so he'll quit"
strategy. You just end up with a miserable person in your newsroom. If
you don't want someone on your team, have the guts to tell him it would
be in his best interests to look for another job. Release him from his
contract, and, here's a wild concept, actually help him find another
job. You'll be happy, he'll be happy. Remember, you're all on the same
team. Treating a teammate badly only helps the opposition.
and intimidation don't help either. For those managers who subscribe to
the theory that people who are afraid of losing their jobs work harder,
well, you're right. They work harder at finding another job. Walking on
eggshells worrying about making mistakes only makes news people more
tentative. Creative people are wired differently; we thrive on taking a
blank page, then weaving a tapestry of words and pictures and sound into
something wonderful. We do not respond well to threats; it simply sends
our creative muse into vapor lock. (If you don't know what a muse is,
go back to counting your beans.)
And if you're a young producer with little experience, stop playing dictator. You might be in charge of a certain newscast, but you don't have the right to order people around. Ask for help rather than demand it.
3-Praise in public.
This isn't just for managers. Did a reporter knock out a great package
yesterday? Tell him in front of someone else. Has a photog shot some
killer video? Make sure the whole newsroom hears about it. The old
phrase "I must be doing OK because I never hear anything" is heard much
too often. If people are doing a great job, let them know it. Doesn't
matter if you're a News Director or an intern.
every story deserves a live shot. Years ago, live shots meant something
special. Now we seem to think the viewer will get excited if we are
LIVE! Doing "live for the sake of live" creates two problems. It often
puts reporters at scenes where nothing is going on, and takes valuable
time away that might be spent making the actual story better. Just
imagine the quality packages you might have if you didn't have to worry
about doing two or three meaningless live shots each day. If you need
another excuse to cancel meaningless live shots, just think of the
environmental impact of running a live truck generator.
a difference. When was the last time your newscast contained a story
that actually made the world a better place? You can't find these gems
everyday, but don't dismiss stories like this because you view them as
Try some of these suggestions. Today. You might just look forward to coming to work tomorrow.