When it hits the fan

When it hits the fan
Speakers: Nicole Hill and Kingsley Burns, University of Oklahoma.
Time: 10 a.m. Sunday, March 14, 2010

This session was definitely appealing to both Sam and me.  Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows every deadline produces its own special crisis.  There is no front-page art, a writer falls through on an article Monday afternoon and you have gaping holes where stories need to be filled in.

But anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows it’s these moments of crisis that can thrill an editor and a leader can emerge.

The two speakers worked on a yearbook but their stories were ones of horror.  For example they had photo editors who quit the yearbook on deadline and then stole their equipment.  They had students make questionable decisions when it came to photos and students write less than politically correction articles that stirred racial controversies.  So they asked, “what do you do?”

The initial reaction:

Executive staff must make a decision of what to do and stick with it.  There is not time to change midway.  Think it over and make a decisive decision.

Inform staff of what they need to know.  They can sense when something is wrong.

Stand by your staff members who made an honest mistake.  Do not throw them under the bus and let them take the heat.  As an organization the mistake was made and a united front is needed.

Have a prepared statement so everyone is on the same page.

Do NOT have leadership argue in front of staff members.  It ruins moral, creates factions and disrupts workflow.

How to respond to staff that is causing problems:

Take a step back and listen to their side of the argument.

Have a third party, (an adviser or professor) listen to both sides and make an opinion.

Allow for periodical reviews of all staff members performance so if there is a problem with a staff member it is documented and there are no surprises.

Have one-on-one meetings with staff members so they have a chance to change.

Always have a database of applications of people who applied so when a staff member is let go there is always somewhere else to go.

When looking to hire staff and looking for leadership:

A leader should have four things

Initiative

Communication

Competence

Empathy

When looking for a leader, technical skills are important yet don’t go after the whiz kid with no personable skills that can lead a group.

This was helpful in managing staff that may cause problems and how to handle different situations.  While they were all steps I believe we take at The Pendulum, it was useful to hear them again and understand how they worked in another organization.

And while I hope we never have a controversy that involves massive statements, it is very useful to know how to handle an issue like that.

These are two issues that the speakers dealt with that included inciting racial tensions and the other where a sorority said if they published a profile on the girl who got drunk and sprayed a fire extinguisher trying to make snow  they would “do something” about it.  The video of the girl apologizing is in the second link.

Link about Bobo’s Chicken controversy:

Link about snow angel controversy:

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