Archive for May 6th, 2013

This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms. 

Your staff doesn’t always deserve praise. Sometimes you need to identify problems for staff members to address, and you need to do that directly.

Focus your criticism on the action and result and on solutions, not on the person: Instead of saying someone’s a bad writer or can’t write a good lead, show a cumbersome, unfocused lead and talk about some techniques to help the person writer better leads. (If the staff member is aware of the problem, move straight to the instruction and challenge without piling on with the criticism.)

Journalists respond well to challenges. Don’t just tell a reporter that her leads are too long. Challenge her to write a strong lead for the story she’s working on today in fewer than 20 words. She will be able to meet the challenge. She’ll probably see that it’s better than the long lead from yesterday that resulted in the challenge. And your challenge will turn the criticism into a positive experience, not an ass-kicking.

Criticism needs to be clear and direct, delivered face to face (but possibly followed up in writing), with eye contact. But the criticism is not as important as the challenge that accompanies it.

For individual problems, criticism should be handled privately, to avoid embarrassment and minimize defensiveness. But if you have a problem that’s widespread, you need to address it openly. (more…)


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