Broadcast Future Depends on Leadership Training

January 8, 2013 01:30

By Deb Wenger & Jared Senseman

Admit it.  If you’re in management at a TV or radio station, you probably got your current job because you were good at something else.  Maybe you were a great reporter, a budget-building sales guy or a super producer.

“People are promoted to management because they’re really good at something, usually craft,” said Jill Geisler, director of The Poynter Institute’s leadership and management programs.  “Becoming a manager takes an entirely different skill set.  As a manager you have to learn how to be a symphony conductor, but you may only know how to play a tuba.”

Geisler, who has written a book on media management, says without targeted training, new managers typically try one of three strategies. “They may emulate a past boss, try to be everyone’s friend or try to make change in a heavy-handed fashion, forcing people to do things their way,” Geisler said.

Though these strategies aren’t always effective, they’re common, as is the industry’s ad hoc system of identifying and selecting managers. However, General Manager Hank Price of WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, NC believes it’s imperative that media companies rethink this approach. Price said that TV and radio have traditionally been stable, high cash flow businesses and that on the job training has been viable because the industries didn’t change much.

“Now, everything has changed; opportunities and threats come up daily and on the job training is not sufficient.  Media organizations need a leader, in my opinion, not a manager.  We need a new way to take people identified as future leaders and give them a level of preparation commensurate with the challenges they are going to face,” Price said.

Some media companies do have a management training infrastructure.  Hearst, for example, has the Producer Academy, which is an offsite, week-long training program for “up and comers.”  Raycom Media, under the direction of VP Susana Schuler, has developed an annual Newsroom Leadership training class for employees they believe have the potential to grow in management positions.

“This training involves three in-person meetings throughout the year and monthly training webinars covering leadership, management, motivation, industry elements and all facets of Raycom Media, including sales, marketing, finance, human resources, research and digital,” wrote Schuler in an email interview. Since the program launched in 2008, almost 60 employees have been trained with 40 percent getting promotions into leadership roles within Raycom, according to Schuler.

Price said Hearst, which owns his station, Raycom and other media groups do have good programs, as do organizations like NAB and RTDNA, but he says that the training opportunities out there are piecemeal, all over the board and involve a relatively few number of people.

“Here’s what I think is missing, a comprehensive program where a manager or future manager can go to one place and come out totally equipped to lead,” Price said.
He likes the idea of a three-way partnership between media companies, educational institutions and industry organizations.

“It should be an accredited university that can be affordable to everyone, we need industry organizations like NAB, NATPE and TVB, and the third part is support from companies.  Done right, this creates the future of those companies,” Price said.

Price is involved in the development of a pilot program, based on the partnership he describes.  Right now, the organizers are conducting a survey to get opinions on how to structure such a training initiative. 

Schuler already knows what she’d like to see in the program. “I think leadership training is critical. I think a broad immersion into the other departments at a TV station and understanding how the partnerships across disciplines work. I also think overall industry knowledge, as well as the changing competitive landscape, are critical areas to learn and study,” wrote Schuler.

Price said media companies are making a serious mistake if they don’t quickly address the need for a new type of management training.

“They lose the opportunity to control their future.  Every month managers tell me that no one knows what future will bring, but we know a lot about it.  Our managers are not equipped and they will end up being victims of what future brings.”

The University of Mississippi is exploring the possibility of adding a master's degree in media management program to address the goals outlined above. To participate in a brief survey about media management training, please click on the following link: