As a working journalist (for the time being, anyway), I haven’t said much about the seeming death spiral of the newspaper industry: the hemorrhage in subscriptions and ad revenue, the to-the-marrow cuts in newsrooms. (In management parlance, this is sometimes referred to as “rightsizing.”) If I had a brilliant idea about how to save the biz, I’d be angling for Katherine Weymouth’s job. What I can do is write stories that are useful and/or interesting to someone, beginning with me. Many of the journos I know, the good ones anyway, operate according to a philosophy that’s half egotism, half altruism.
The folks over at the Columbia Journalism Review have launched a bittersweet new feature called “Parting Thoughts,” in which they invite ex-journos to talk about what’s wrong and what’s right about what we do, and to share their accumulated wisdom (or bitterness). In the latest installment, Chris Ison, a former Minneapolis Star Tribune staffer who won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting in 1990, points out something that 1) nails the mindset and 2) should be read by the top editors at every paper that’s still standing:
Many of the best journalists I know are driven in large part by ego. They claim an independent streak, but they’ll do anything to please a boss who talks their language and challenges them to be great. They are energized by top editors who’ll stop by their desk and talk about storiesâ€”not to fulfill an MBO, but passionately and informally. They want to be empowered to find the best story, not told what the story is by a manager who hasn’t reported on the street in years. If reporters push deadlines to improve quality, they want to be seen as committed, not disruptive to the planning process.
In other words, they want leaders who share their values. Without that, more good journalists will go.
Management, please note this too: The workers have shown they’ll change how they do the work; they just don’t want to change what the work is for.