Growing through the ranks as a journalist, most people experience a variety of different News Directors and management styles. But when you move into the corner office, there really isn’t much to prepare you for all the changes in your life and day-to-day operations.
Many things you must learn on your own, because every situation is different, but there are a few things I wish someone had told me going into my first News Director job:
1) Don’t expect to make a ton of changes as soon as you walk in the door. Unless it is a shop you “grew up” in, you likely need to sit back and observe for a couple weeks and figure out what is going on. It will take what seems like forever to turn the ship how you feel it should be facing. But it’s important to take the time come up with a plan instead of just making a bunch of snap decisions.
2) Talk to your people. Ask them what they think is working, what isn’t and why before you make sweeping changes. Those who have experience in other newsrooms might have ideas on how things can be made better. They also know first hand what isn’t working – and it might be something that you didn’t see.
3) Be clear with your expectations so that you can trust your people will make the right decisions when you’re out of the building. And let them make those decisions! The only way they will learn by having the chance to make mistakes.
4) Ask questions. You don’t have to pretend you know everything – because no one does.
5) Trust your gut. As long as you’re being ethical and legal, in many cases there is no one right or wrong decision (or unless corporate tells you that you made a wrong decision).
6) You don’t get to do as much of the fun news stuff as you used to. Yes, when there is breaking news you can get more involved and get things done, but most of your day is going to be spent doing anything BUT news. The part that I’ve found the most rewarding, though, is growing young journalists that I recruited and seeing them succeed in bigger markets. I still check on them (I call them my children) regularly and make sure they’re doing okay and that they’re still growing.
7) If you make it comfortable in your office, people will want to sit and talk to you and not only will you not get anything done, neither will they. It is okay to tell them you’re busy and that they can come back at a specific time – or tell them you only have five minutes and stick to that time.
8) You don’t have to be a math whiz to do a budget. Become friends with your business manager – they will be happy to put their math prowess to work and help you figure out how to make things work for your department.
9) The work is still going to be there tomorrow. Unless you’re under a deadline, it is okay to log off your computer and go home. Spending hours on end answering emails and helping answer every problem is a never-ending process. Set a time you will try to leave by every day – unless you have a deadline or breaking news – and stick to it. Just because you have a new position doesn’t mean your family and personal life have to be put by the wayside. That also means you don’t have to answer every email from home either. Make a rule for yourself that you’ll check emails one hour before you go to bed and then don’t check them again until the morning. If there is an emergency, someone will call you!
10) There isn’t a surefire way to prepare for helping your staff cope with trauma. In each of my first two jobs as a news director, we had a death in our newsroom family. You have to be strong for your staff, but you have to remember to take care of yourself as well. Counseling for everyone is necessary. Counseling for yourself should be mandatory. If you don’t deal with your own emotions, you can’t help your staff deal with theirs. It WILL creep up on you. You will cry. It is okay. You’re a human – be human. We’re quick to show emotions like anger, but quick to hide sadness. Why? Let them see that you’re dealing with it too and it is okay. Let your staff see you be human.
These are a few of the things I wish I’d known as a new news director, but I’m still learning every single day. There really is no training manual that would cover every single issue you’re going to come across, and you have to be willing to make mistakes. There are classes and resources that can help you with things like time management, but some things you’ll come across fall into that “you can’t make this stuff up” category. That’s why it’s key to find mentors to lean on – and for more experienced News Directors to be resources and mentors for our newer colleagues!
- Amy Sullivan is news director at KGBT-TV in Harlingen, Texas.
What do you wish you had known starting out as a news director? Send us your thoughts to share with new news directors!