You got this job because you are good at some parts of journalism. Those skills will be important to you as an editor, but they will probably make up less than 50 percent of your responsibilities. The rest? Managing people.
LEADERSHIP VS. MANAGEMENT: As an editor, you are both a leader and a manager. Managers make things run on time. Leaders decide the destination. You are charged with leading us wherever we will go next. You are also responsible for details like hiring, assigning, meeting deadlines required to keep our coverage robust and build readership. Here are ways you can tackle that:
- Determining your leadership style.
- Understanding your power, both legitimate and intrinsic, you lead through expertise, connection, reward or coercion. Editors must determine how to use their power not for personal gain, but for the betterment of the news organization, its staff and its role in the community. Editors need power, and employees want to work for editors who possess it. A staff who realizes an editor can get things done is more likely to be highly motivated to help accomplish the editor’s goals.
GOALS: If you don’t have a clear roadmap for where you are going, your staff won’t either. Consider a range of goals, from big, overarching ones that will inform and define the success of an entire semester or year. Consider mid-range ones that will grow your staff and its coverage. And consider smaller ones that will change the course of periods as short as days or weeks in the life in the newsroom and its work.
COMMUNICATE: Goals must be communicated clearly, loudly and frequently. When you interview candidates, articulate them. When you train staff to start a semester, repeat them. When you run meetings, reinforce them. If you don’t talk about your goals, no one else will.
DELEGATE: Managers work through employees to achieve organizational goals. In other words, you cannot do it alone. You may have gotten this job by virtue of being the best reporter, photographer or designer, but now that you are an editor you have to delegate. You must recruit, train and assign others to make sure they can successfully do the tasks you did previously. Don’t fail to do your own job while doing someone else’s for them.
MONITORING PERFORMANCE: Good managers make sure employees get feedback. The first rule of feedback is praise in public, punish in private. Applaud people at meetings, in notes, in person. But when someone messes up, call them in for a private conversation on what went wrong and how to fix it. The more successful editors also often do formal evaluations of their staffs, setting appointment times, preparing written thoughts, meeting in private, making the evaluation a discussion and following up on both the employee’s successes and areas in need of improvement. If you manage well, your employees will know your goals and their evaluations will let them know how well they are contributing to our overall mission.
HOW TO COACH WRITERS: The best editors are like coaches. They talk with reporters throughout the reporting and writing process, asking questions and listening. Here are some questions you can pose to reporters to help them craft their story:
- How would you explain this story to a friend?
- Tell me what your story is about in a sentence or two?
- What’s your lede?
- What’s your nut graf?
- What’s new overall on this topic?
- Why are we writing this story now?
- Why should readers care?
- What is your headline?
- What’s the most interesting thing you learned in your reporting
- What’s your best quote?
- Who are the most interesting characters in your story?
- What does the reader need to know?
- What would make a good ending?
QUALITIES OF A GREAT EDITOR/MANAGER
- Motivate each employee to take action after engaging them with a compelling vision.
- Be assertive to drive outcomes while overcoming adversity and resistance.
- Foster culture based on accountability.
- Build relationships that create trust, open dialogue and transparency.
- Make decisions based on productivity and alignment with goals, not politics.
- Viewed as supportive, trusting, inclusive, especially in times of stress or challenge.
- Viewed as personable, caring about employees as individuals with unique lives.
- Listen before acting, empowering employees to often make or help make decisions.
- Employees see you as genuinely welcoming, someone who can be a trusted sounding board.
CHANGING COURSE: Sometimes you will discover you are not on track to achieve your goals. If so, talk with the editor and adviser to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. Be prepared to return to the recruit-train part of the process, contemplate personnel shakeups or re-examine workflow processes.
FURTHER READING: Restorative justice workbook, by Drs. Patience Bryant and Derrick Dixon