Leadership advice

Newsroom leaders: How to help your team cope

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

I spent the weekend trying to prepare for teaching this week on allyship. It was nearly impossible to concentrate.

Like anyone in journalism, I couldn’t disconnect from the unfolding news about the assault on the Capitol. Every new image adds layers of information. But they also have a remarkable consistency. 

The insurrectionists radiated hate. Let me be precise: White hate.

Newsroom leaders, especially if you’re white (and that’s long been the majority), please help your team members through the emotions they’re feeling right now.

Read Sam Sanders’ NPR essay, “The Lies We Tell Ourselves about Race“:

“The images from the Capitol this past week made that clear: a noose hanging outside the building. Inside, insurrectionists carrying a Confederate flag. Members of the mob wearing T-shirts that read ‘Civil War.’

“Our current troubles — and our current administration — are both just the latest chapters in America’s ongoing battle over race.”

Sanders challenges those who say, “We’re better than this.” Because instead, it is proof of who we are. And, as Sanders points out, who we are is something newsrooms have struggled with, often hesitating to acknowledge and call out racism in our own organizations and in the world.

I thought about that when I saw the Confederate flag and the Auschwitz t-shirt proudly borne into the Capitol by the white rioters.

The “artifacts” make it easier to connect the riot to racism. But permit me to say that to be Black in America is to know the connection when signs of it aren’t literally hitting everyone else in the face.

To be Black in a newsroom is to be beyond weary of pointing out the connection, especially to people who can’t or won’t see it, then cloak that resistance in “both sides-ism” or sanitized language like “grievance” or “populism.” 

Black journalists have helped me understand, so I can teach this: It is exhausting to show people what they can’t imagine; to so often have to point out racism when it’s not draped in a Confederate flag or t-shirt slogan. When it’s framed as politics but is so much more.

Witness this final quote from Andrew McCormick’s “Madness on Capitol Hill” for the Nation:

“‘This is not America,’ a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. ‘They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.’

“A man, possibly her husband, comforted her: ‘Don’t worry, honey. We showed them today. We showed them what we’re all about.’”

News leaders, members of your team are processing the trauma of assault on the Capitol in ways that are personal to each of them — as journalists under siege, as Americans, as people of faith, as victims of racism. 

They may be having trouble concentrating. Or sleeping. They may be fearing their co-workers don’t understand the depth and complexity of the moment.

Or maybe they’re hoping that this time — they finally do.


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