Critical Thinking: How Can Publishers Improve Newsroom Morale?

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By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: How Can Publishers Improve Newsroom Morale?

Q: In today’s depressed economy, how can publishers improve morale in the workplace and keep staff motivated and happy?  

Yasmeen Abutaleb, 20, junior, University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
Abutaleb is a journalism and microbiology major as well as editor-in-chief of The Diamondback, the university’s award-winning independent student daily newspaper. She also served as a business reporting intern for USA Today this past summer.

A: When I filled out my college applications three years ago, I wrote that I wanted to go to medical school, but all of that quickly changed when I began writing for The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper. I was hooked. Journalism was my passion, and I was going to pursue that career no matter what it took.

It may not be the highest paying field, but no journalist goes into this because of a fat paycheck. It may sound cliché, but that’s because it’s true: Becoming a journalist is about seeking the truth and working toward informing the public, even at the risk of upsetting some. And in a world where everything seems to be driven by generating as much revenue as possible, the seeking-truth mentality seems to get lost.

As college students, we have hundreds of job possibilities, but it essentially boils down to two options: We can pick a career we’re passionate about that may not provide us with tons of spending money, or we can pursue something that will almost guarantee us a solid paycheck. Anyone pursuing a career in the writing or publishing industry almost certainly picked the first option. Working in today’s economy is no simple task. We’re constantly in a state of panic, it seems, and there’s always impending doom.

It’s easy for publishers to get caught up in how to simply stay afloat. While it’s certainly important, staff members need to remember why they wanted to enter the industry in the first place: because of the adrenaline behind every story and the assurance that their work is meaningful.

Maybe publishers can’t afford to give their staff members bonuses or other expensive perks as an incentive to continue working hard. But if employers truly hired the right people, striving to accomplish the ultimate goal of any publishing business — working to inform the public, increasing transparency, and holding people accountable — should be enough.

Laura Hollingsworth, 45, president and publisher of Des Moines Register Media
Hollingsworth is president and publisher of Des Moines Register Media and Midwest group president for Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing Division, overseeing 22 media markets in seven states.

A: Our business challenges today require top talent. Publishers must purposely strategize to improve the employee experience to be competitive employers. Here are seven steps I’ve taken to not only maintain morale, but to grow it:

1) Be visible: I frequently roam the building, engaging employees in all departments. This isn’t just one-minute manager stuff; it’s my opportunity to offer feedback on issues and send a signal that I am attuned to the challenges and opportunities our employees face.

2) Be communicative: It’s an everyday commitment — from personal visits to emails, town halls, newsletters, phone calls. My staff must know that I’m engaged and paying attention to their efforts. I work to keep employees plugged in with strategic moves we’re making, as well as to share successes within our organization.

3) Celebrate successes: Sometimes, it’s as simple as a Starbucks card and a note. Bigger successes deserve bigger rewards. Employees must know their hard work gets recognized and that we reward great efforts. It inspires them to continue to do big things for our customers and readers.

4) Be inclusive: Publishers don’t have all the right answers or solutions to every issue. I often lean on the great critical thinking skills of my staff to tackle complex challenges. Employee-led think groups can offer creative solutions, and their buy-in guarantees greater success.

5) Demonstrate long-term vision and commitment to change and growth: I take every opportunity to do so. Many in our business still don’t see our future, and it’s my job to help them see it, believe in it. Providing and communicating an exciting vision is an imperative to morale and satisfaction.

6) Rethink work styles: Workplaces are changing drastically, and the way in which work gets done most productively is changing, too. Solicit and utilize employee ideas for better ways to do things, including mobile work options and flexible scheduling.

7) Have some fun: We all enjoy a little downtime — from an employee picnic to providing opportunities for employees to volunteer together. Have a running calendar of “fun” events, big or small.

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One thought on “Critical Thinking: How Can Publishers Improve Newsroom Morale?

  • November 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    The best way to boost morale? Be excellent. Most people want to be proud of the products they help create. Most want to be part of something great. But don’t be excellent as some sort of Machiavellian exercise. The goal isn’t to boost morale. The goal is to be excellent. Morale will follow. And if it doesn’t? There’s no downside in being excellent.


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