Anchor leadership takes off-camera skills

October 31, 2017 11:00

We sat down with Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity at Loyola University Chicago, and Scott Libin, University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism Senior Fellow and RTDNA Chair, to talk about some of the shortcomings of on-air coaching, what it really takes to be a newsroom leader from the anchor chair, and how anchors can get the training they need.  

Watching anchors at work inspires many future reporters, but what are some skills aspiring anchors may not realize are important to being a successful behind the news desk?

Jill: The best anchors have what I call “Skills without Script.” They are students of current events, history, geography, government, civics, culture, ethics, law - and grammar, too. This enables them to serve viewers in breaking news situations, when information is fluid and often urgent. They know they are the newsroom’s last defense against an erroneous or out-of-context report. Additionally, top anchors have an impeccable sense of timing and an awareness of the needs of all the others on their team, from the production crew to the news teams in the field. At their best, they are the calm in the storm - both on the air and off.
 
Scott: The challenge is that anchors get coaching on their work in front of the camera, but little if any on their crucial role behind the scenes. They are often the most experienced, most recognized and most respected people in the newsroom. For some, however, the skills that earned them that status aren't the only ones they need in their leadership role.

Anchoring is one of the most publicly visible roles in a newsroom, but what goes on behind the scenes? What is an anchor’s role in the newsroom when the camera’s not rolling?

Jill: The most respected anchors are a wise voice in daily newsroom meetings. They pitch stories for others as well as themselves. They weigh in on tough ethical decisions. They write and edit copy. They are trusted partners with show producers in crafting their newscasts. They coach fellow journalists, rather than just fix their copy.
 
Scott: Anchors are influential voices at the editorial, ethical and interpersonal level. The best ones are thought leaders with a keen understanding of their newsrooms and the communities they serve. Just as viewers turn in turbulent times to trusted brands and the people who represent them, journalists turn to newsroom leaders for advice, ideas and inspiration. 

How has an anchor’s role changed as broadcast news has expanded to include digital and social media? What do anchors need to do to adapt?

Jill: Anchors have always been the face of the TV station in a community, often serving as its ambassadors at community events. Now, instead of being just the emcee at the charity event or guest speaker at a career day, they can truly interact with viewers on social media. They can engage via Facebook and Twitter for story ideas or reach out for expertise as they report. They can raise the curtain on editorial decision-making and explain how tough calls were made. They can also deliver news via any platform their audience prefers.
 
Scott: Anchors' jobs have gotten a lot harder. More is expected of them than ever, and not just on air. Managing a social media presence sounds so much simpler than it is. It requires a commitment to critical thinking and professionalism. This training is built on best practices that have proven effective. 

What are a few common mistakes new or even long-time anchors make?

Jill: With so many pressures on them, from reporting to social media to community service to recording promos, anchors can get out of the habit of attending daily news meetings. When it happens, their input is missed and frankly, they are less tuned into what their teammates are putting their sweat into each day. Other errors: Some anchors are still broadcast-focused and have yet to become leaders on the digital side. And some fail to understand the power they have to be a genuine force for journalistic excellence through the feedback and coaching. The best want to be leaders, not just readers. It’s interesting, then, that the customary training for anchors focuses on “talent coaching” — how to polish their delivery. That’s why Scott and I have worked for years to help anchors gain leadership skills, and why this RTDNA/Loyola program will pay dividends to them and to their newsrooms!
 
Scott: Some still fix, rather than coaching. Leading by example may be the only tool in their kit. They need and deserve to develop a broader range of skills. Jill and I have seen what an enormous impact anchors can have when they are recognized as more than "talent." That's why we're so excited about this anchor leadership seminar. It's training that can't be found anywhere else.
RTDNA and Loyola University Chicago School of Communication​ will be hosting a two-day "Anchor Leadership: Truth and Trust in the Digital Age" seminar, led by Jill and Scott, July 12-13, 2018 at Loyola's Water Tower Campus. Learn more.