Leadership advice

Newsroom leaders: Be big, bold, empathetic and angry

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

My local paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, used a one word headline to describe January 6, 2021:


It was big, bold and accurate.

That’s what we need from news leaders right now: the strongest possible words and actions to protect democracy and the journalism that is its heartbeat.

They also need the wisdom to understand that this assault on the Capitol raises more than just Democrat/Republican or Left/Right issues. They need to understand the impact of the insurrection on their journalists, too.

What journalists saw — or experienced firsthand yesterday — was white rage, hatred, privilege and racism. It was the differential, deferential treatment of Trump supporters in 2021 compared to that of Black Lives Matter advocates in 2020. 

They saw lies presented as truth, and journalists attacked as traitors

It’s tempting to look for signs of hope, to say, “This is not who we are as a country” and “We’re better than this.”

We’re not.

The insurrection proved who we are.

It was also a call to action for big, bold, accurate journalism. 

I’m usually the first to point out the importance of empathy in newsroom leadership, of showing genuine care for the hearts, minds and safety of your people.

That still stands. Your team needs it more than ever.

But with that empathy, feel free to show your anger, too, at this assault on democracy and journalists.

Turn that empathy and anger into some of your most important reporting.

Don’t shift into “happy, hopeful transition” story frames that could too easily brush aside the festering ugliness that fueled the assault on the Capitol and won’t just fade away.

Hold insurrectionists and their enablers accountable. They live everywhere.

Be vigilant about attacks on voting rights that may spring from the many unfounded claims of voter fraud that were given life by the President. Repeat the truth. Expose future attempts at voter suppression in their many forms; they can come packaged as solutions to problems that never existed.

Be big, bold, and accurate.


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Tom Turner
Tom Turner
1 year ago

I’m proud to be your friend, Jill. And I long for the old days when television broadcast stations had the courage to have Editorialists to add perspective to the news they report.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tom Turner
John Cary
John Cary
1 year ago

Thanks for your cogent writing. I don’t have the credentials of lots of those who will read this but I have eyes and ears and a memory of past actions which culminated with this attack not only on a building but on the soul of our nation. Thanks for writing this.