At the risk of repeating myself, don’t let valid obstacles in your newsroom become excuses for your failure to develop as a digital journalist. No one benefits (or hurts) more from your career than you do. So don’t leave your career success or fulfillment in the hands of bosses who are stuck in the past.
I also should note that this prolongs my already-long curmudgeon conversation. This post is prompted by a comment from “FormerStaffer” on my recent lessons-learned post, following up on my “Dear Newsroom Curmudgeon” post. FormerStaffer makes some valid points:
Some curmudgeons are made by their own newsrooms. Lack of decent training is a big issue. If a newsroom worker doesn’t have personal time off the job to learn these new skills (new baby, sick family member, working two jobs, aging parents, or similar problems), is it fair to penalize that worker for the problems in his or her private life?
Newsrooms also give mixed signals. If the paper claims to be web first, but only posts some stories first on the web, what is the message to staffers? If there are no consequences for failing to post on the web, but missing press deadline by 10 minutes produces an angry memo, what message is being sent?
If a staff member trying to learn Twitter asks for guidelines about using Twitter (what to post, what kind of language shouldn’t go in a quote in a tweet, whether tweets should refer to rival news operations, whether out-of-focus photos that are banned from the printed product can be sent with tweets, etc.) then the question shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off — someone should think about writing some guidelines, even if they’re only four or five items on a list.
I will address the issues shortly, but first I want to say this: I will be emailing FormerStaffer to ask whether he or she worked recently in a Digital First Media newsroom. If one of our newsrooms is operating this way, then Jim Brady and I will want to address these issues directly with the editors leading that newsroom. I’ll also offer to email FormerStaffer’s former editors if he or she doesn’t work in our company. Editors who operate like this need to be called out on their backward behavior. But now, I want to address FormerStaffer directly:
Curmudgeons are not made by their newsrooms. Don’t give bad bosses that much control over your career happiness and success.
I say this as one who has felt as you feel, who blamed my editors and my companies for the things I didn’t like about my career. After being fired as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992 (OK, I still blame the publisher and the company for that), I spent six months looking for my next job.
I also spent six months evaluating whether and how I wanted to continue my journalism career (if I even could). As I reflected on my career to that point, I looked back on a lot of fun and a lot of rewarding work. I also looked back on a lot of anxiety and at times even misery as I fought or fretted over bad decisions by my employers and editors. When the bosses killed newspapers in Des Moines and Kansas City, I became too consumed by the resulting problems. I became overwrought about the actions of my editors and publishers (and even by the wife of the publisher when I worked in Shenandoah, Iowa).
I decided that I would never again give the bosses that much control over my career happiness and success. And the 20 years since then have been happier and more successful than the first 20 years of my career. I’ve still had bosses who did things I regarded as counterproductive. I’ve had some miserable days and my happiness sagged at times when I was looking for a new job because of the bosses’ decisions. But even in those stretches I was happier than I had been during disruptions earlier in my career.
I don’t minimize the importance of getting on the same page as your bosses; I have changed jobs because I disagreed with the direction my company was headed, and I’m sure I am happier and more successful now, in strong agreement with Jim, John Paton and our direction at Digital First Media.
But however good or bad your bosses are, journalism is fun work. Lots of journalists made a big deal Wednesday of the ranking of newspaper reporter on the list of 10 worst jobs, worse than waiter and not quite as bad as oil rig worker. Yes, job security is shaky now, and the commenter addresses the some of the work environment issues. But if you focus on the work, reporting (and other journalism jobs) are fun, fulfilling work.
You can’t control everything about your career. But you can control your outlook. I had a lot of success and happiness in the first 20 years of my career. But I’ve had more of both since I changed my outlook and decided I alone would be responsible for my happiness and success.
Specific advice relating to FormerStaffer’s points:
About training: Yes, your bosses need to provide more training and more time for training (as we are in the Digital Ninja School). But take the initiative yourself. Find a workshop, seminar or webinar you could attend, a News University course you could take online from your desk. Then propose to your editors that they give you the time (and pay the money) for you to get that training. If they just give you the time, take the time and invest in your own future. If they won’t give you the time, take your own time (yes, the personal factors you mentioned are all valid, but some of them are short-lived; you can and should invest some time in career development). Or just learn on the job. No one taught me Twitter or Storify. I just started using them and learned by using them.
About mixed signals and deadlines. Challenge bosses on mixed signals. Ask for clarification. But the example you cite seems thin to me. Most web traffic comes during the day. Print deadlines are in the evening. For evening sporting events and meetings, web and print considerations might clash. In those cases, post a quick bulletin with results to the web (and Twitter and text alerts) and turn your attention to the print story. Or develop a Digital First workflow that feeds digital platforms by liveblogging and live-tweeting and also streamlines work for the print edition.
Asking for guidelines. Don’t ask, tell. Tell your editor what your approach to using Twitter is going to be. Don’t ask whether it’s OK to link to competing organizations. Tell the editor that you think linking is good digital journalism and when the competition beats you on a story, you will link to them and get to work on catching up and getting ahead (or let the link suffice because the story you were working on is a better use of your time). If the editor disagrees, then he or she needs to provide guidance. Outline your approach to using Twitter. That will result in either the guidelines you want or a helpful discussion of Twitter use. Or if the response is silence, you at least have some protection if the editor gets mad next time you link to the competition.
This response is long enough — maybe too long — already, but if you want to read more, these are themes I have addressed before:
- Jump in and learn
- Don’t let obstacles become excuses
- Digital First journalists should regard obstacles and challenges
- Thoughts on redirecting and rejuvenating a career