How to build the news team you deserve

November 4, 2019 11:00

You get the team you deserve.
Taking the time to recruit, hire, and retain the best people is the simplest way to dramatically impact the culture in your newsroom. If you rush through the process, you’ll make mistakes. Those mistakes can grow into energy vampires, sucking your attention away from content.
When I was hired as the News Director at WHAS in 2018, we were in staffing crisis. Over the next seven months, I hired 26 people. That’s an average of one per week. It was trial by fire.
Here’s what I learned:
Before you start the search, you must know what you need. That means first, you must know your station. What do you need right now? What about 6 months from now? What kind of candidate will be a culture fit? How can you hire to your weaknesses (breaking news, diversity, investigative, etc.)? What can set you apart in the market?
It also means you must know yourself. Young journalists are searching for a boss who can coach them into their next opportunity. Why would a candidate want to work for you? What can you do for that candidate no one else can do (based on your experience and your network)?
Get more tips for recruiting, training, retaining and growing talent in your newsroom from Julie Wolfe and Brandon Mercer.  Members can access a video recording of a one-hour hiring webinar in the member portal.

Former KTXL News Director Brandon Mercer built a reputation as that kind of boss: the one that could get you to the next step. He often interviewed on-air reporter candidates right out of college for jobs in market 20.
“They had to be absolute rockstar MMJs who could tell a story, had huge confidence, and looked big market,” Mercer said. “Then, the plan was for a 3-year contract. Year one, they learn from us. Year two, they’re performing to expectations, and year three they’re leading the big newscast, and maybe filling in as anchor.”
What about the fourth year? “The fourth year, they’re working in market #2, and you have a reputation for finding top talent that gets hired away by L.A. stations.”
During one of my first contract negotiations as an MMJ, my manger pointed to a box of VHS tapes (yes, resume reels were actual tapes not that long ago!). He said, “See those tapes? Those are people that want your job.”
Those days are over.
Yes, there is still fierce competition for top market jobs. But there’s a serious shortage of top talent willing to work in tiny towns for miniscule pay. It means newsroom hiring managers of today cannot open the door and expect a flood of the best candidates. You must go out and find them:
  • Learn to use YouTube filters to look for new reels
  • Check regional station bios. Are there home towns, schools, or hobbies that could draw candidates back to your station?
  • Join groups, and when possible, regional chapters like NABJ, ONA, NPPA, RTDNA, etc.
  • Make recruitment part of conference attendance mandatory. If an employee attends a conference with station support, have them bring back three candidates.
  • Turn your team (and former team) into recruiters for you. When you build a strong culture and build a reputation for strong leadership, those testimonials will recruit great talent.
Mercer recommends building a pipeline with journalism schools in your region.
“The demand for highly skilled graduates—even with no professional experience—is sky high. Especially for producers,” he said. “If you can present your station as a stepping stone to a destination market and career success, they may accept your offer, instead of toiling away in anonymity elsewhere.”
“The first interview question I ask candidates,” Mercer said, “is what are they looking for next in their career, and where do they want to be in 5 or 10 years.” The answer to that can help see if they will grow into the position you have available.
To attract those candidates, you must be committed to coaching, training, and mentoring. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, which employs more than 71,000 people said it best: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
As a hiring manager, you cannot train every single person. Develop a plan for feedback, and make sure it includes other newsroom leaders. Sharing that plan with potential candidates has been one of the most powerful tools of recruitment I’ve discovered.
The other is a strong commitment to building the culture you want. In my newsroom, it’s simple: Work Hard. Be human. Be present. Every. Single. Day. What’s your newsroom culture? When you can clearly define it and explain it to potential candidates, you’ll begin to build the team you deserve.