5 ways to turn newsroom negativity around

October 16, 2019 01:30

Newsrooms are notoriously stressful places to work, but they don’t have to be. Arm yourself against negativity with five ways to rediscover your passion, get inspired and be motivated.

At the EIJ19 conference, news leadership trainer Kevin Benz shared these tips for how news teams – and their managers – can make our newsrooms better places to work, a little at a time, every day.

1. Get out of your comfort zone at work and at home
When you find yourself struggling to be interested in your assignments or find story ideas, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

Go back to your “why.” What do you stand for as a journalist? Truth? Accountability? The public interest? Find a way to pursue those aims each day.

Your daily mission of discovery should include your personal life. Get out of your echo chamber and try something new. We tend to spend time in places we feel comfortable and surrounded by people like us, but journalists need to embrace discomfort. Exploring your community can help spark enterprise ideas as you find unheard voices and untold stories.

Pitching enterprise stories is a great way to impress your news director, pursue what interests you and produce work important to your community.

Even on days you don’t have a boundary-pushing pitch, don’t wait for someone else to push you to do better. As Boyd Huppert would say, try to find the story within each assignment. Flex your creative muscles and challenge yourself to improve one particular aspect of your storytelling each day.
Managers: What is the model and expectation you have for people to challenge themselves? How do you build in opportunities for your team to get out and learn about their communities?

2. Become a coach and build a team
Journalism is a team sport. That’s why the Murrow Awards go to newsrooms, not individuals. Each member of the news team has a role and a particular expertise – and an opportunity to be a teacher. Sharing your skills is a great way to remind yourself of your value and to take pride in others’ growth.

And just as you have something to offer your newsroom teammates, they each have knowledge and expertise you can learn from. 

Offer to host a lunch-and-learn for your newsroom. It’s a great way to become closer as a team.

Apply the concept to bringing your newsroom closer to your community, too. Host an open house or volunteer together to learn more about your community, practice transparency and grow as a team.
Managers: How are you helping develop leaders in your newsroom? Does your professional development plan include not only technical skills, but also leadership and coaching? How do you recognize the effort of coaching? (KING5’s Chief Investigative Reporter also holds the title of Specialty Reporting Coach.) What are you doing to help your newsroom grow as a team?

3. Work smart 
One consistent challenge in newsrooms is juggling multiple tasks – all on deadline. It can be especially challenging when breaking news means changing gears quickly. But it is possible to work smarter.
Take control. You have control over whether you arrive on time. You have control over whether you arrive with story ideas ready to go. You probably have control over more than you think.
Dispatch with distractions. Multitasking is a bit of a myth. In reality, multitasking would be more accurately called task switching, as our brains try to shift gears quickly among tasks. It’s not efficient or effective. If you can eliminate distractions that aren’t truly urgent, you’ll get tasks done faster.
Be honest with yourself. Evaluate your typical day. Does one particular task or part of your day tend to grind to a halt? What can you do to improve the process? Setting mini deadlines for yourself – and enlisting your teammates to help you stick to them – can help you get back on track.
Managers: Employees are happier and more productive when they have autonomy and control. How do you empower your team to take control and make decisions, where appropriate? Are you willing to give your team the benefit of the doubt and try things outside your own comfort zone?

4. Take care of yourself
An old school way of thinking in newsrooms says that because news never stops, journalists must always be on. In reality, that’s a recipe for stress, burnout and serious mental health problems.

News may never stop, and the life of a journalist is sure to include unusual hours and last-minute shifts, but in an equitable newsroom, fulfilling those obligations is a team effort.

Be intentional about having a life away from the newsroom, during your workday and, especially, outside it. When it seems impossible to “turn off,” remember that having a life and participating in your community actually makes you a better journalist.
Managers: If you’re the first in and last out of the newsroom every day, you’re not sending a good message to your staff. Both Benz and Chip Mahaney, in an EIJ19 session about becoming a news director, shared the story of Carole Kneeland, a legendary news director, who left the newsroom at 3pm each Thursday for a massage and dinner at home. Her conscious, intentional example showed her team that no one – even the news director – needs to spend every moment at work.

5. Tune into your body chemistry
Research shows that our bodies and minds are inextricably connected. You can take advantage of that link to change your thinking, your body chemistry and your mood.

For example, pause, take a deep breath and smile when you walk into the newsroom. Studies show you’ll have a better day at work.

You can also reduce the effects of negative emotions.

Embrace negativity, find its source and label it. When we don’t deal with negative feelings right away, they get worse. When we identify why we’re unhappy or angry, those feelings decrease.

If you’re feeling anxious, find a way to make some small decision. Anxiety often stems from a feeling of lack of control, of the unknown. Making a decision – it doesn’t have to be the right one – lessens worry as you reestablish control.

Finally, zoom out and remember the amazing impact we can have as journalists. Just thinking about gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin, hormones connected to positive social interaction. And according to Al Tompkins’ stark look at journalists and trauma, “Journalists who believe they are doing important work are FAR more likely to recover from trauma.”
Managers: Your body language affects your team. Pausing for a breath before walking into the newsroom can mean the difference between looking stressed out – leading your team to worry – or looking calm and purposeful.

When you dread going to work every day, you may be suffering serious burnout or a toxic workplace. But before you bail on your newsroom, use these steps to take control of how you react to negativity and, as a news leader, how you’re building a more positive workplace culture.


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