By: Nu Yang
Q: Last December, the Kansas City (Mo.) Star told two reporters that it needed to lay off one of them, and that it was up to the reporters — not management — to decide which one kept their job. If you were presented with this scenario by your employer, how would you resolve the situation?
Emily Busse, 22, University of Iowa (Iowa City)
Busse is a journalism major and current editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, the university’s award-winning independent student newspaper. Last spring, she interned as a mobile journalist for The Gazette/KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids.
A: In my own limited experience managing the staff of about 100 student journalists at The Daily Iowan, I’ve learned that most of the decisions you make as a manager are not easy. You worry about whether you’re going to regret your choice, about what other staff members will think of it, and, ultimately, whether it’s the best decision for the newspaper. Managing isn’t easy, but it’s your job.
Managers are chosen for a reason: They are expected to manage. A newspaper cannot be successful if the people in charge refuse to do their job merely because firing someone is uncomfortable.
If I were presented with a situation similar to the snafu at the Kansas City Star, I would decide to leave the newspaper. I’m not ignoring the fact that finding another job is not always easy, and I would not take the decision lightly. However, I don’t believe I could continue working for managers who are unable to take ownership of their responsibilities.
Newsrooms do benefit from some amount of healthy competition (gunning for the best assignments, striving for page one placement, etc.). However, newsrooms require constant, genuine collaboration. Reporters share sources, they help make calls for one another, and budget meetings are a continuous brainstorming session. When you begin pitting reporters against each other to avoid a moment of unpleasantness, you weaken staff teamwork and degrade confidence in your own leadership.
My favorite aspect of working at The Daily Iowan is witnessing the incredible teamwork and passion of our team of student journalists. When we publish something particularly noteworthy, there is always a group of people behind it. My least favorite part of the job is making extremely difficult management decisions. But do I avoid those responsibilities? Would I pawn the burden off on staff members? No. That’s my job, not theirs.
Emily H. Price, 26, entertainment/features reporter, Hattiesburg (Miss.) American
Price is a 2009 graduate of Troy University (Ala.), where she earned a degree in print journalism. She is an award-winning features writer who is a reporter turned law enforcement public information officer turned reporter, again.
A: When I initially heard of this happening in Kansas City, I was shocked. Having been laid off before, I was instantly empathetic toward both reporters who were given this almost impossible task. You see, I had the luxury of being addressed by my superiors. While many wouldn’t consider anything associated with a layoff a “luxury,” I can assure you, there are parts of the ordeal that are.
When placing myself in the role of one of these two reporters, I’m torn between two options.
One option would eliminate the decision altogether, because my words would probably get me fired by the meeting’s end. Then, I would tell everyone I know about what happened. Honestly, that’s not my style of conflict management. It’s just one of those daydreams I think every journalist has entertained. You know, the one where you say everything you think, and then emerge from your silent thoughts feeling accomplished and calm.
The second option — the practical and rational one — is the one where I would ask if there was room in the budget for my colleague and me to continue our work as part-time employees. (This would, of course, mean that my fellow reporter would have to be on the same page with this option.) My reasoning behind asking to work part-time comes from the desire never to be unemployed again. I’ve been there, done that, and couldn’t afford the T-shirt by the time it was over. Trust me, in the end, some income is better than none at all. Working part-time would allow both my fellow reporter and me to continue building our portfolio and have the time to search for other employment opportunities.