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Why do journalists make such bad managers?

Posted on 25 October 2011 by Alice

Journalists have

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one of two options to further their career – become a more senior reporter, perhaps chief reporter, chief correspondent, or go into management by becoming a deputy editor or editor. Now, if your

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newspaper or news outlet doesn’t have the capacity to promote journalists into senior reporting positions, they’re only left with the management choice.

Deadline time

Good reporters aren’t necessarily good managers though… something I discovered for myself after a stint as a Deputy Editor at a newspaper. One year in, I hated it to such an extent that I demoted myself back to a mere reporter. You could say I have first-hand experience. These are my observations not only about myself, but in general.

So why do journalist make such bad managers?

1. They still have a hankering to follow stories that they were working on before promotion, and resent passing over top leads to other reporters.

2. Their workload probably increases 10-fold – if they’re not already good at managing their time and themselves, this is disastrous.

3. Deadlines increase from perhaps one copy deadline a day to more than 10.

4. Late nights in the office followed by belligerent reporters the following morning, don’t mix.

5. Reporters are congratulated for their exclusives: editing is a completely thankless task

6. They may decide to cover up their mistakes by blaming the reporter – who’s more than likely still in bed at the time of the meeting

7. Deadlines can overtake the importance of solid news

8. Managing oneself is very different from managing a team

9. Reporters think their stories are the best and should be given prominence over other stories – not all stories are page-leads

10. Many reporters go into management without any training. Knowing the news is important, but who wants to deal with argumentative journalists!

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4 Responses to “Why do journalists make such bad managers?”

  1. John Duncan says:

    You make some really good observations. Part of it is personality too. Reporting is very much a lone wolf job – it’s what appeals to a lot of people entering the profession. It also requires a certain amount of cynicism about authority and self belief. First problem: all that makes journalists intrinsically hard to manage unless you’re thickskinned. Secondly it limits the number of journalists who have the personality to become great managers themselves – they need to be flexible, collegiate, comfortable in meetings, motivating for others, loyal to a team, emotionally intelligent, outgoing. Yet the only way for a reporter to get a pay bump is often to take a desk job.

    To me the answer is to make sure that great reporters can see a way of progressing in responsibility and salary that doesn’t involve forcing them into management. It’s still surprisingly rare for newsorgs to get that.

  2. Alice says:

    Thank you for your comment, Cynthia. I too have had some great managers and mentors. Some journalists, unfortunately, don’t have management skills – an observation from my 10+ years in the industry.

    I’d be interested in reading some of your bylined articles, please feel free to post links.


  3. Cynthia Fleming says:

    Wow, cynical! I’m guessing your under 35 and haven’t worked in that many major newspapers around the world.

    Although bad managers exist every occupation, my experience in more than 20 years in journalism has been the exact opposite to what you describe.

    I have had the best of managers and some great mentors too.

    I’m not entirely sure of your background, but it appears like your cynicism toward the profession has clouded your objectivity.

    Perhaps, journalism is not for you.

  4. Adam says:

    You touched on the reason in your first post. Most newspapers promote people based on longevity and not ability.

    You’re creating a rod for your own back right there if you do that, especially when you couple that with the fact there is usually little or no training from newspaper HR departments on how to be a good manager, and few safeguards to ensure that those failing badly are removed from the front line.

    Promote on capability and suitability for the role, not alliances or the fact they’ve been there for a decade.