By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
What did you take from that?
That you have to give people time to develop beats and expertise. But it's fair to expect them to be setting their own agenda -- to not sit around waiting and wondering what the competition does. And in time, hopefully, they'll be able to get the stories that matter the most. That's one lesson I learned -- and another one came when I was 28 and my city editor -- or maybe it was the managing editor -- tapped me on the shoulder and told me he wanted me to be an editor. And I really didn't want to be an editor.
I was covering politics, and I was enjoying being responsible for myself. I'd spent a couple of years covering this beat, and I'd just gotten to the point where I didn't have to be there every day and information came to me. I was mastering the beat, and I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor. But the lesson I learned on that is, if you can't see potential in yourself, sometimes other people can -- and you've got to be willing to go with the flow. I did, and I've been an editor ever since.
What about lessons from theGlobe?
A lot of great lessons -- and one of the biggest is that the best newspapers thrive on ideas and concepts. They cover the events that happen very well, creatively, but when things are slow, they're able to look at the ideas and concepts that help drive the news. So I learned to look at stories, read them all the way down and then turn the prism a little bit and find some new angles that provide fresh perspective. But having had some tough moments at the Globe, I also learned that when those tough moments present themselves, don't put them off. Do what needs to be done. Because tough problems only get tougher when you don't deal with them.
There are a lot of tough problems at thePost, and many people expected you to come in and make instantaneous changes. But for the most part, you've moved more slowly. Are you trying to apply the same patience to thePost that your editor in Dayton had with you?
I am. I don't believe quick fixes are lasting fixes. The easiest thing would be for me to come in and say, "Everybody here is terrible, and I'm just going to bring in all new people." But to lay waste to the place and chop off people's heads and make lifetime decisions about their careers in six weeks is stupid. I want to build a foundation that's going to last, and you do that by taking your time, putting your system in place, giving people a chance to adjust -- and if they don't, they don't. I think people really rise to the expectations that are put on them.
Is that the message you've been giving to people in various departments right now? That at a certain point, more will be expected of them?
I need our people on beats doing a very aggressive job, and I want a higher page-one quotient than they've been accustomed to. If they fall back to metro front or page two of metro, great. But aiming for the inside just to feed the beast is not going to work. And people who want their beats and enjoy their beats should be performing at a very high level. I'm in the process of talking to all the beat reporters, trying to assess their level of excitement and satisfaction on the beats they've covered. Most of the people I've talked to have said they really love their beats and they want to stay on them. And I say, "Well, if you like them, that's great. But you really, really, really need to be on page one." Everybody understands what I want -- and they know they'll be measured from this point forward.
Do you have a set expiration date regarding beats, where if people have been on a beat for X number of years, they've been there too long?
You want to create the expectation that a beat is an assignment, and like any assignment, it's a finite thing. I don't want someone sitting on a beat for a decade or two decades; that really retards their development, especially if they're younger people. Having some expertise is fine, but five or six years on a beat is a lot. Even if they're comfortable doing that, it's not really in their best interest to leave them there indefinitely, so I don't plan to do that -- and I apply that to myself.
That seems to tie into your second anecdote, about initially wanting to enjoy the fruits of your labors instead of taking on something new. Can an excess of comfort be a detriment to a beat reporter?
When you get comfortable, you lose your sense of urgency. The first year covering a beat, you're just trying to find the bathroom -- trying to figure out the mechanics of the place. The second year, you're really sharpening your knowledge, and the third year, you know your beat well enough that some things are beginning to come to you -- and the fourth year, you own that turf and are really dominating it if you've been working hard. But after that, you start getting bored and needing something new. And it's up to us as managers to maintain that level of enthusiasm and keep reporters on an upward trajectory, learning new things. At the Globe, I found out there were people who'd been covering beats for a decade who'd never been asked, "Is there something else you'd like to do?" -- and when they were asked, they jumped at the chance. So I plan to ask that question.