After you’ve been hurt, it’s hard to be open-minded about whatever hurt you. That’s worth keeping in mind in your journalism life, especially if you’re a leader.
At a large daily newspaper not so many years ago, I moved from a “downtown” editing job to a reporting position in a suburban bureau and made friends with several experienced reporters there. I was surprised one day to find myself arguing with two of them about the two former top editors of our metro department.
“They didn’t think bureau reporters were as important as downtown reporters,” one of my reporter buddies said. (I’m reconstructing the quotes from memory.) I objected vehemently. I had worked closely with both editors. Both of them preached constantly that the great majority of our readers lived outside the central city limits. They lived up to their words by putting suburban reporters’ work on the front page and by assigning strong reporters to the bureaus.
The response from my friends was immediate and almost scornful: “No, you’re wrong.” I was stunned. My friends didn’t think I was lying, obviously. Did they really think I was just deluded and had completely misjudged the intentions of two managers I worked with every day for two years?
At the time, I made myself a note that two good questions for all journalists are:
1. What hurts? 2. How do you react to being hurt?
I think those questions are worth exploring, even if just to build self-awareness so we can overcome hurt.
Looking back, I think there also are lessons for leaders, including student media leaders. Why were those well-paid reporters so sure they weren’t important to the managers?
I think now the paper’s management failed to overcome a stereotype. The usual practice at large newspapers was to send rookies and rejects to suburban bureaus. So if you told your friend at another paper you were being transferred to a suburb, your friend said, “Who’s mad at you?” It just wasn’t enough that the metro department’s managers kept saying we didn’t have a caste system. I think the top managers of the newspaper could have done much more. Such as:
–Explaining why suburban coverage was so important to the success of our business. In dollars and cents and readership. Every quarter. In person. At every bureau.
–Refusing to allow the business and lifestyle departments to flatly refuse to send reporters to the suburban bureaus and the sports department to send only part-timers. (So even your friends at other departments in your own newspaper thought you were a second-class citizen if you went to the suburbs.) If the entire newspaper wasn’t going to respect the business imperative of covering the suburbs, why should reporters have believed in it?
So if you are a leader, ask yourself who’s been hurt in your organization. Who had a story or photo rejected? Who has been pushing unsuccessfully to increase coverage of a topic? Who missed out on a section editor job? Who hasn’t ever had a story or photo on Page One and has been too intimidated to ask why?
Do they feel hurt? Do they really understand what happened, even if they disagree with it? Ask.