If you’re like many news directors, you may have been thrust into a management role with plenty of news know-how but not as much administration experience. A passion for news comes with some people skills, but there’s more to management. These are some skills new and seasoned news directors alike need to brush up on to run a smooth newsroom.
1) Managing up and managing down
Running a newsroom means managing a team of reporters, producers, editors, engineers and so on. Many of these roles you may be experienced with, or be taking on in addition to management duties. Other times it means managing staff performing duties you’re much less familiar with. How many of our news careers started long before Twitter or Snapchat? That means you’ll need to build a working knowledge of changing platforms and technologies – and learn when to trust the expertise of your team.
A newsroom’s just one part of a broadcast station, and news directors need to know how the news department fits into the bigger picture. That means being able to advocate for your department and understanding enough of the station’s workings to know how you fit into the bottom line. A solid working relationship with your GM, and the ability to manage up, is essential.
2) Understanding your role in the station’s bottom line
Moving into management means you’re responsible for isolating your news staff from business-side pressure, but doesn’t mean taking an adversarial stance when it comes to the sales department. More than ever, news directors need to understand how the news department fits into a station’s – or station owner’s – financial picture.
3) Handling conflict
Any workplace brings the potential for tension or even conflict. When your workplace is a busy newsroom working on deadline on important, breaking or traumatic stories, the pressure’s even higher. Newsroom conflict can be purely professional – disagreeing over story choices, etc – or it can get personal. In a worst case scenario, it can turn hostile or even dangerous to employees’ well-being. Learning to manage everyday conflict, communicating successfully with many different personality types and becoming adept at difficult conversations are all key for news directors to succeed as newsroom referee.
4) Creating a positive newsroom culture
Managing and mitigating newsroom conflict is one thing. Preventing it is another. As a news director, you have the ability to demonstrate and build a healthy workplace culture – or not. Those in power have a particular responsibility to those without, so workplace integrity starts with you. That means ensuring those most vulnerable to mistreatment – newsroom minorities, interns, new employees – are respected voices. It means working to ensure your newsroom team is truly diverse, and that being different doesn’t mean being expected to conform to an entrenched, potentially unhealthy, newsroom culture.
5) Dealing with threats to press freedom
We’ve covered handling internal threats to your newsroom’s functioning. What about external threats? From “fake news” to declining trust and viewership to increasing difficulty of access and threats to the news media, there’s more than ever news directors need to be ready to combat. For instance, are you following what’s going on in your state legislature? You should be – and you should be ready to confront potentially problematic record laws and other threats to the First Amendment. Are you stepping away from the day-to-day crust to think critically about your newsroom’s role in combating misinformation? You should be – and you should be regularly demonstrating your news philosophy and process to your audience.
6) Knowing your community
We may be broadcasters, but to truly serve our communities, we need to be listening, too. How well are you listening to and getting to know your audience? Do you have online and offline strategies to ensure you’re really providing “news you can use?” Does your coverage reflect issues your community cares most about? Are stories assigned because they come to you, or are you actively staying in touch with the interests and needs of your community, including underrepresented populations?
7) Always looking ahead
It’s clear: the news business is changing. The foundational principles of journalism haven’t changed but just about everything else has - audiences, technology, business models. Keeping your newsroom strong requires foresight. That means keeping on top of new technology and knowing what’s worth a try as well as what’s not. It means thinking of innovative ways to cover traditional stories. It means tracking what’s working and knowing when to let go of what’s not.
Dive deeper into each of these skill areas in the news management track at our annual conference, Excellence in Journalism, Sept. 5-7, 2019 in San Antonio. Register by August 12, or by June 27 to save.