Management isn’t journalism’s strong suit

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[Commentary] Newsrooms have long hired and promoted based on journalistic chops, and often that alone. The problem, of course, is what makes for a great reporter doesn’t necessarily make for a great boss. Bad bosses are a fact of life in all businesses, of course, but journalism seems to be particularly poor at developing and training managers, and there are reasons for that.

For one thing, as a percentage of payroll, non-news corporations spend nearly five times as much on training as do newspapers, according to 2008 graduate research by Teresa Schmedding, who’s now president of the American Copy Editor’s Society.

Another problem: personal traits that tend to foster reportorial excellence --independence, skepticism, aggressiveness, etc. -- can be, shall we say, counterproductive in a boss. While being abrasive may have worked in the Abe Rosenthal era, newsroom culture has changed in recent decades. The imperial boss largely has been replaced by the consensus builder, or so the literature tells us, and workers expect to be treated more civilly.

All of which leads to a suspicion that a big reason that journalists might tend to make for bad managers is that the job is just really, really hard. Nieman Reports reported that a non-journalist management expert hired to assist assigning editors said that “in 30 years of research he had never encountered a job with such intense problem-solving demands,” adding: “The assigning editors were not surprised to hear this.”

Then there’s the fact that journalists can be, well, difficult: “Managing journalists is particularly challenging, because if they’re any good, they question authority and challenge spin,” Jill Geisler, who, as head of the Poynter Institute’s Leadership and Management, says. “We want to hire those who will question authority -- except ours.”

Management isn’t journalism’s strong suit