This continues my series on professional networking.
I credit my skills and hard work for most of the success I’ve achieved professionally. But my professional network has helped tremendously, too.
In this post, I’m going to run through the jobs I’ve landed and explain how my network helped me get most (but not all) of the jobs in my career:
Because my mother read the newspaper …
I was on a canoe trip in the summer of 1971, between my junior and senior years of high school, when my mother read a notice in the Evening Sentinel that Sports Editor Chuck Offenburger was looking for a sports writer. I didn’t know Chuck, and had no network connection to him. But Mom called the notice to my attention. I applied and I got the job (and Chuck and I remain friends).
But the network connection that mattered here was my mother. I’m not a fan of nepotism or family interference, which didn’t happen here. Mom didn’t even know Chuck. But she tipped me off to the first job of my journalism career. And Mimi has alerted two of our sons to opportunities that led to jobs for them. Listen to your mom.
Because I had worked at the Sentinel …
This part is pretty easy: I worked at the Sentinel in high school and interned there in college, so the publisher there was familiar with my work. He offered me more money when I graduated than the other job offer I received. When you have an internship, show the bosses how well and how hard you work. The internship might turn into a real post-college job.
Because I knew Chuck Offenburger …
Chuck moved on to the Des Moines Register in 1972, about seven months after he hired me. By 1977, when the Sentinel publisher’s wife got mad at me, Chuck was a star reporter for the Register. I called to see if I might have a shot at a job there. He encouraged the managing editor, Dave Witke, to give me an interview. I eventually got the job.
Because I knew Barb Musfeldt …
At the Register, I worked a lot with interns, and one of the best was Barb Musfeldt, an Iowa State graduate student. A year or two later, Barb was a reporter at the Kansas City Star. On the day the news broke that Gannett was buying the Register, the national and regional editor at the Star’s sister/rival newspaper, the Kansas City Times, asked her who would be someone at the Register who might be a good candidate for an opening on his desk. Barb dropped my name and gave me a call, telling me about the opportunity.
I ended up taking the job. (And, in the closest I ever came to playing matchmaker, Barb and my new boss, Rick Tapscott, eventually married.)
Because I knew Michael Gartner …
I didn’t know my next boss and no one gave me a heads-up or called her up to tell her to give me an interview. I answered an ad (probably in Editor & Publisher) and sent my resumé and references off to the publisher of the Minot Daily News, Margaret Wade, in 1991, when I was interested in taking on the challenges of leading a newsroom and Margaret was looking for an editor to lead hers.
References are the formal representation of your network. While I was a copy editor at the Des Moines Register, I became the regular editor of a column on words by Michael Gartner, who was then the Register’s editor and later became the company president. I developed a good relationship with him. We weren’t close friends, but were close enough that he welcomed me to visit his office in Des Moines about 30 years later, when I was working in Cedar Rapids and sought his counsel on a couple of occasions. He’s always been on my list of references.
After we both left the Register about the same time, Michael’s career included high-profile stints in executive positions at NBC News, Gannett and the Louisville Courier-Journal, before settling in a while as owner and editor of the Ames Tribune, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. I can’t recall where he was in that series of moves when I included him as a reference in my Minot application. But Margaret knew who he was and called him up, a bit starstruck. He praised my work, and Margaret called me up to Minot for an interview and eventually offered me the job.
Because I scheduled my own interview …
The Minot gig was great for 364 days, until I got fired, as the company was shedding executive salaries in preparation for a sale.
I can’t recall my network helping much in the six-month search for my next job. It was a tough time in the newspaper business, and before email became ubiquitous. I wrote and called a lot of people in my network, but can’t recall particular connections helping me arrange most of the nine interviews I got. I eventually received four job offers. I recall a network connection helping with only one of the interviews that resulted in those offers, but references probably helped with others.
The references no doubt helped in landing my next job with the Omaha World-Herald. But I think the most important factor was that I scheduled my own job interview, even before the editors had received budget approval for the job I eventually took. My family was going to be spending the holidays about an hour away in southwest Iowa, visiting my father-in-law. I wrote the World-Herald and some other papers in the region, suggesting that I drop by for an interview between Christmas and New Year’s. The executive editor, Mike Finney, was off, but the managing editor, George Edmonson, agreed to see me. That interview went well. A few weeks later, the budget was approved, with an opening for a new senior reporting position. I flew down to Omaha for another interview and landed the job.
Because I had worked for Rick Tapscott …
Rick had moved to the Washington Post while I was in Kansas City (and I was promoted into his job). We stayed in touch and visited with him and Barb when we were vacationing in Washington, or I’d have dinner or drinks when visiting the Washington Bureau. In 1998, Rick called me when he was considering a job opportunity as metro editor of the Des Moines Register, knowing I had stayed in touch and might have helpful observations about how things had changed at the Register under Gannett ownership.
Rick took the job and soon called to see if I would be interested in replacing my old friend Bill Simbro, who was retiring as the Register’s religion reporter. I eventually took the job.
Because I asked Larry King if I could come back …
I enjoyed my work with Rick and my Register colleagues. But my weekly commute between home in Omaha and work in Des Moines grew old, and family considerations and my 1999 surgery for colon cancer led me to consider a return to Omaha.
I had not burned that bridge. I still played some weekend basketball with old World-Herald friends, including then-Executive Editor Larry King. I spoke at the National Writers’ Workshops that the World-Herald hosted in 1999 and 2000. The weekend of that 2000 workshop, I asked Larry if we could have lunch. I said I’d like to return. We discussed a new role for me, and soon I was starting my second hitch in Omaha.
Because I knew Vickey Williams and Mary Glick and Carol Ann Riordan …
Starting in 1997, I had been juggling my reporting chores with a growing career and business training journalists. Writing coach was part of my title and duties in my second hitches at the Register and the World-Herald. And the World-Herald allowed me to spend my vacation time providing workshops and seminars for other news companies. My best client was a newspaper group called CNHI, where corporate news executive Vickey Williams hired me to lead four regional leadership workshops for editors.
My training reputation grew strong enough that Mary Glick of the American Press Institute invited me to present the same leadership workshop at seminars for editors.
Larry King also nominated me for API’s Train the Trainers program, planned and moderated by Carol Ann Riordan, API Vice President for Programs and Personnel. In addition to learning a lot about training, I developed a good relationship with Carol Ann.
Mary had scheduled me for another seminar (for city editors, I think) in February 2005. A few weeks before the seminar, Vickey (who knew from earlier conversations that I was interested in a full-time training gig) gave me a heads-up that Drew Davis, the new API president, had just approved a new position to direct customized training for newspaper companies. I didn’t know Drew, but emailed him, expressing interest in the job and suggesting we talk when I was in town for the seminar. I told him Carol Ann, Mary and Vickey were familiar with my work. He asked them about me, and they sang my praises.
After my leadership workshop for the city editors, I had my interview with Drew, and by April, I was moving to Washington to work for API.
My move to Cedar Rapids
Direct network connections didn’t play a huge role in either of the jobs I got as top editor in a newsroom. Just as I didn’t know Margaret Wade, I applied out of the blue to be editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008.
I didn’t know Dave Storey, the publisher, or Chuck Peters, the CEO, who were the two key figures in the editor search. Either or both of them might have seen one of my dozens of Newspaper Next presentations to newspaper groups, including the Iowa Newspaper Association. But we hadn’t met or communicated directly before I applied, responding to an ad.
I don’t know a specific reference who made a difference, as Gartner did when I applied to Minot, but I presume references were checked. I sold my experience and ideas for innovation, and I think those were bigger factors than my network in this hire.
Because I knew Jim Brady on social media …
I don’t know when Jim Brady became aware of me, but I knew of him sometime during his tenure as executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, and admired his work. We probably started following each other on Twitter in 2008, but certainly were following each other in 2009. A blog post I wrote prompted Jim to send me a direct message on Twitter. We exchanged a few other messages over the next few weeks, and were scheduled to be on a panel together in Columbia, Mo., in November 2009. In late October, when Jim announced plans for a Washington local news operation at Allbritton Communications, I told him that I was interested. He returned the interest and we had the first job interview a couple weeks later in Columbia. That led to my next job at the short-lived operation we called TBD.
Because I knew Jim Brady and John Paton …
About the time I started at TBD, John Paton started as CEO of the Journal Register Co. We had never met, but he emailed me asking my advice about the Ben Franklin Project. I wasn’t expecting to leave TBD any time soon, if ever. I thought Jim had a great business strategy, and thought we would thrive for many years. I figured my next job might be launching a new TBD in a different metro area. So I didn’t think I was sucking up to a future boss. I was just being helpful when I responded to Paton. I gave him some advice, which he followed (and credited me), and we emailed back and forth several times over the next few months.
— John Paton (@jxpaton) April 19, 2010
Well, that TBD experience turned out to be a brief ride. Jim resigned from TBD in November 2010, and John was in touch right away. John hired Jim, then they both hired me, and I started a more extended (but still too brief) ride with Journal Register Co., which became Digital First Media.
Because Jerry Ceppos knew me …
When I was at API, we received a couple of grants from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to present ethics seminars to newsrooms, universities and press associations. Jerry Ceppos was dean at the University of Nevada-Reno and hosted me for a Nevada Press Association seminar. We stayed in touch and, and I emailed congratulations when he moved to LSU in 2011. He brought me to Baton Rouge for a consultation in December 2013. And the day Digital First Media cut my job and about 50 others, Jerry emailed me, and later that day we talked on the phone about the job opportunity that eventually brought me to LSU.
That one-year job turned into a long-term position last year when Jerry hired me again, as Director of Student Media.
Addressing the obvious
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve certainly observed that I’ve moved around a lot. I was fired once in Minot. Other times changes in the corporate situation (including elimination of my job at DFM) prompted a move, or the next employer reached out to me with an intriguing opportunity. I actually stuck around four times for about five years or more (Kansas City, both Omaha hitches and the first time in Des Moines). But when a situation changed or wasn’t working out the way I wanted, my network helped me find new opportunities.
You probably haven’t been keeping track, but I have: Of my 14 journalism jobs, I landed 10 of them using a network connection beyond my references.
It starts with quality
As I’ll note throughout this series, networking only works if the people in your network want to hire you again or will tell others your work is good. Rick Tapscott, Larry King, Jim Brady and Jerry Ceppos would not have hired me a second time if I hadn’t done good work for them the first time. Even your friends won’t do that.
References, even good friends, tend to be pretty honest in assessing your work when asked. I have applied for some dream jobs that perhaps were a stretch in terms of my experience or abilities. And I didn’t get the jobs, despite some network connections. I don’t know whether the person doing the hiring could tell I wasn’t the right fit or whether someone in my network gave a candid reference that didn’t help me. In either case, it was the right outcome.
Networking shouldn’t, and usually doesn’t, result in opportunities for the unqualified.
Other posts in this series
Want to write a guest post?
You may have some experience in networking that would add to this series. If you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.
Interested in a networking workshop?
The posts in this series can be developed into a workshop or series of workshops for you journalism organization or university. If you’re interested in discussing or scheduling a workshop, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.