This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.
An effective newsroom leader understands how much creative control and authorship means to journalists.
My grandmother, Francena H. Arnold, was a novelist who once rejected a publisher’s suggested story line, saying, “I could no more write someone else’s story than I could birth someone else’s baby.” Journalists don’t have quite the freedom Grandma did to choose their own stories, but they share her parental and possessive feelings about their work. Good editors respect and nurture this sense of authorship even while they have to provide more direction to their staff’s work than Grandma allowed.
Ask reporters to come up with Digital First beat coverage plans. Some will come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought to suggest (though you might suggest them to other reporters). Some won’t go far enough and you’ll need to ask them how they plan to use some digital tool or technique they overlooked, such as curation, liveblogging, video, data or social media. Either way, you can work with them to set priorities and plans, prodding where you need to but respecting the desire (and the responsibility) to be the authors of their own work.
You need to continue this respect for authorship in carrying out daily work. Where time permits, identify problems with a story and give it back to the reporter for rewriting rather than rewriting yourself, whether it’s the lead or the whole story that needs rewriting. When you do rewrite and the reporter doesn’t like your version, don’t insist on your approach. Explain clearly what was flawed in the original draft and challenge the writer try to improve it herself.
On a day-to-day basis, it might feel easier to just fix a story yourself. But you will save time in the long run (and develop a better staff) if you expect people to improve their own stories and help them set higher standards. You also will earn their respect as you show respect while upholding high standards.
How have you (or an editor you worked for) shown respect for a journalist’s pride of authorship?
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is tentative). What other topics should I cover?
- Face-to-face communication
- Personal life
- The editor’s blog
- Role models
- Time management
- Developing new leaders
The posts probably will run daily Monday-Friday for the next few weeks. If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. Sue Burzynski Bullard provided such a post on organizational tools.
I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. Feel free to suggest a post that might address a topic I’ve already covered, but from a different perspective. I welcome posts that disagree with my advice. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.