May 14, 2004

Forget the Beast, Go After the Ducks

My latest column for Tomorrow's Workforce focuses on efforts to provide support and training to newsrooms' most critical component -- middle managers.

Here's the beginning:

The old San Francisco Examiner had a newsroom culture that was equal parts Sun Tzu, Homer Simpson and Hunter Thompson. When I became metro editor, my management training consisted of this advice from a predecessor: “This job is like being nibbled to death by ducks. Don’t let them get to you.”

That was many years ago, and the old Examiner is gone. But the ducks are thriving in newsrooms across the country, biting the ankles and nipping at the shins of front-line editors, quacking up a storm about budget lines, weekend shifts, seating arrangements, the company car and so much more, distracting those editors from what they were hired to do: Good journalism.

It’s not a fun place to be, in the middle. Bosses want long-term vision converted to daily reality. Reporters have needs and idiosyncrasies. The news beast is ravenous around the clock.

These editors – the department heads, the assigning editors, the copy desk chiefs – have the hardest jobs in the newsroom. In most cases, they receive the least preparation to do them well.

Read the rest here.

Posted by Tim Porter at May 14, 2004 09:45 AM

At most newspapers, the person who is named managing editor has never made a real decision before becoming ME. He always had to check or be second-guessed by the old ME. Consequently, most ME's are terrible at making decisions. The best managers I've ever known were young editors who edited weekly newspapers early in their careers, where they actually had to make important decisions without anyone to fall back on. Sadly, most editors, J-profs and J-deans view editing small papers as a poor career track for being a good editor at a metro.

Posted by: rivlax on May 19, 2004 11:29 AM
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