You look at a script, a V.O. or even a lead-in and think, “This could be so much better.”
You’re probably right.
If you’re a gifted writer with a strong sense of storytelling, a wordsmith who can write conversationally, or a newshound who’s a stickler for grammar and usage – you’re definitely right.
You want to improve that copy. You know what it needs.
So, what’s your next step?
Chances are, you put your paws on the keyboard and start re-writing. It’s your automatic response. After all, isn’t it your responsibility to improve the work before it’s aired or published? It’s why you fix things, day after day.
And it’s frustrating.
Frustration is common when you’re a Fixer. That’s because Fixers improve products the only way they know how: by re-doing the work of others.
You get short-term satisfaction, or maybe just relief, knowing that you’ve kept mistakes or mediocre content from public view. But at the same time, you grumble inwardly – or even out loud:
“Why aren’t these writers improving?”
Here’s the answer, dear Fixer: Your actions create a system in which their work is the first draft, which you then tidy up. You do it so automatically and independently that unless you discover some egregious error, you may not even discuss your edits with the writer.
While you are making your upgrades, they may have moved on to some other tasks, barely aware of your corrections.
You do your thing; they do their thing.
And while you’re fixing, they’re not learning.
On top of that, sometimes they do see the additions or deletions, the reframing or re-phrasing you’ve applied to their writing, and they’re not happy. They may think you are controlling and micromanaging, disrespectful of their skills and ideas.
If you’re a powerful anchor or producer, they might not feel they can question your choices. They keep their concerns to themselves.
That’s the curse of fixing. It improves stuff, but not necessarily relationships. It guarantees corrections, not collaborations.
How do I know this? Because I’m a recovering Fixer. Big time.
Put any piece of copy in front of me and I instinctively scan it for logic, flow, grammar, spelling, syntax, surprises, links, characters, over-writing, under-writing, accuracy, ethical issues, repetition, confusion, memorable moments and tied-with-a-bow endings.
My fingers tingle. They want to start working on a makeover.
As an anchor and then as a news director, I simply hijacked peoples’ work to make the changes I felt would improve it. I thought re-writing was my right and my responsibility.
As a Fixer, I didn’t know any other way of doing it, even though it consumed lots of my time and didn’t really help others grow.
But I changed. It was a turning point in my newsroom leadership journey.
I made a commitment to being a Coach instead of a Fixer.
Coaches focus on the people, not just the product. They help them become better writers. Instead of saying “This doesn’t work for me,” and re-doing it, they learn how to describe good (and weak) writing in specific, memorable ways.
They deconstruct good storytelling and break it down to specific pieces and parts. They identify trends and patterns in peoples’ work and customize their approach to each writer’s needs. They have conversations that lead writers to discover ideas and solutions – and do the upgrade work themselves.
To accelerate my transition from coaching to fixing, I gave myself a challenge:
“Sit on your hands.”
If I couldn’t touch the keyboard, and could only talk someone through improving a story, what would I have to be able to identify? Using what words and phrases? Asking what questions? Describing what guidelines? Challenging what assumptions? Using what kind of listening skills? Exercising what kind of emotional intelligence?
By sitting on my hands, I changed from a Fixer of copy to a Coach of writers. I helped people learn new skills and take greater pride of authorship in their work.
I came to realize that coaching may initially take more time than fixing, but it pays long term dividends in both quality and morale. An investment in coaching saves you from relentless fixing – and frees you to do all the things on your To-Do list that fester while you are polishing up the work of others.
I’ve made you nervous, haven’t I? You’re envisioning breaking news and just-before-deadline stories that demand your hands on the keyboard. You’re thinking of that colleague who bristles at anything that isn’t praise. Or the occasional writer who is so bad that you still can’t figure out how he or she got hired.
Take heart. Those are the exceptions. You can handle them.
When you become a true Coach, one who understands what’s needed for every story, every writer, every situation – you know exactly when coaching isn’t the way to go. You know when to jump in and simply fix what needs fixin’ – for the good of everyone.
Unleashing your inner Fixer for the right reasons is a skill you’ll never lose. But as a Coach, you’ll soon discover a whole new level of satisfaction at work, the kind that comes from helping others grow.
And it all starts very simply - by sitting on your hands.
Jill Geisler has coached countless reporters and news managers and is the author of “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know.” She will be among the faculty at the RTDNA/Loyola Anchor & Producer Leadership Summit who will help you learn to coach, not fix. Boyd Huppert will show how to coach great storytelling, Scott Libin will help you coach for better grammar and usage, and Chip Mahaney and Tracy Davidson will help you coach social media skills. It’s what leaders do!
Register by June 27 for the Anchor and Producer Leadership Summit. Send anchors and producers, get back leaders and coaches.