Leadership Advice

Could I have a word with you about your manager?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

This is a message to everyone who has a manager. 

First, let me start by thanking you for all you are doing for journalism in this moment. 

And let’s not kid ourselves. It isn’t a moment. It’s more of an epoch, defined by a relentless confluence of critical stories that are at once inspiring and exhausting for journalists.

Just when you feel you’ve given your all to covering local and national politics, examinations of inequity, protests, fires, flooding and lives, dreams and economies crushed by coronavirus — another story breaks. And if you’re like all good newsies, you shake off your fatigue, take a deep breath, grab your mask, and cover the heck out of it.

Please know how much your commitment matters and how much it is appreciated. 

Having said that: Could I now have a word with you about your manager? I want to tell you what they probably won’t.

They’re more tired than you know.

You see, in addition to keeping track of all of your stories and the threads that connect them… 

  • They are digging deep into ethical and legal issues that today’s news events routinely present.
  • They are looking out for health hazards in the field when you go out, in the newsroom if you come in and in the virtual world when you get Zoomed-out. 
  • They are looking inward at the blind spots and biases that have impeded diversity and inclusion in your organization. 
  • They are mediating internal disputes among colleagues and fielding external complaints from news consumers.
  • They are planning for the future (tomorrow’s schedules, next month’s elections and next year’s budgets). 
  • They are (if they are fortunate) recruiting, hiring, and onboarding.
  • They are trying to keep up with industry trends, product development, technology and audience habits. 
  • They are trying to be present for every staffer when doing so from a distance is a logistical nightmare. 
  • They are living in fear of double-booking their calendars, missing a meeting or letting someone down.

On any given day, a good manager lets someone down. They can’t give the assignment, the attention or the resources the staffer would like — not because they don’t want to, but because they just couldn’t. Higher priorities, lower budgets, and too little time in a too-long day got in the way.

Don’t give up on them.

Like you, they are working harder than ever. Like you, they are being called “the enemy of the people” by ignorant partisans. Like you, they are apologizing to their loved ones for taking care of “just one more work thing” when they should be off the clock.

But unlike you, their job is to help every single person on their watch do their best work. The stresses on them right now are coming from every direction and even the best planners among them are feeling like they’re having trouble keeping up. 

So, do me a favor? Cut them some slack. 

Do your best to solve a problem at the lowest possible level before escalating it to your boss. Make an extra effort to be collaborative with colleagues so work gets done with less supervision and intervention. Come to meetings prepared, so decisions can be expedited, saving everyone time. Let your boss know about the good things your colleagues are doing because it helps managers provide them specific, sincere feedback. 

And if yours is one of the good ones, navigating all the challenges of this epoch with grit and grace while taking care of journalists and journalism, do all of us a favor:

Tell that person.


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2 years ago

Jill, Excellent column. I’m going to share it with my Report for America Corps members. Best, Pam