My name is Vicki Bradley, I’m a grad student.. news director… and now a Kneeland Fellow.
This week, I spent four days in Austin as part of the New Media Leadership Forum. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect… but it didn’t take me long to realize I was in for quite an experience.
Going into this, I didn’t know much about the Kneeland Project…my boss suggested that I apply. I like to take his advice from time to time, so I went for it. He is one of many news directors…well now…a former news director who has been through Kneeland. He told me it was a “career and life altering experience” for him…that’s pretty powerful. So walking into this, I had high hopes! This experience did not disappoint.
To be a journalist is a gift. To be the person chosen to lead a group of journalists is pretty incredible. It’s a gift that comes with a lot of power, some pressure and big expectations. As a news organization we are here to protect democracy. So the decisions we make every day are about more than just ourselves. We have the power to have the greatest impact on people‘s lives. From the time they wake up and get on their phones, to the time spent watching our newscasts…there is an expectation that we give it our all each day. An expectation that we get it right, no excuses.
I’ve helped managed newsrooms on and off for the last five years. I got my start as a news producer and just worked my way up the chain. I never dreamed of being a news director. At one point I thought EP was my cap, boy was I wrong.
The news director job is an honor, with a great deal of responsibility. Just like every job in the newsroom…each day is different, each day brings its own set of challenges. As leaders, at least for me…I go into each day thinking how is what we’re covering going to be impactful to someone’s life? How are we making people smarter? How are we making their communities better? Some days I’m able to be in the thick of the stories and can see them through every step of the way. Others, I’m putting out fires, dealing with personnel, not connecting with my team the way I’d like. At times, my to do list feels endless, the days never feel long enough. That pile of work just doesn’t seem to be going down.
Some days I just feel downright defeated, but there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. So, what do you do? I feel like my time at Kneeland gave me some answers. It didn’t resolve all my challenges…but I gained great knowledge, tools and a new perspective on how to lead.
Just like most other things, you’re going to get out of the experience what you put into it. This is not like all those other be a better manager workshops you’ve gone to, I promise. You’re learning, you’re doing and you’re connecting to a group of people who are just like you. When I say just like you, I mean other news managers in the fight every single day to be the best they can be for the communities that watch and follow them. From the biggest newsrooms to the tiniest… they’re all hoping to come back as better leaders.
Carole Kneeland was a game changer in the world of journalism.
This fellowship was started by people who loved her and wanted to make sure her legacy lives on. Those leading the fellowship are people who actually worked with her, which made it even more special. There were so many times that we heard these personal Carole stories, it really showed you what kind of person she was. Showed you why her legacy is one that needs to be kept alive. While I have sheets and sheets of notes, I won’t go over all of them. There are a couple of things I want to share that really stood out to me during this experience.
When you are a leader, often you put the lives of those you lead before yours. THAT’S GOT TO STOP! There are going to be times when you have to be at work all day and all night. When you can’t disconnect from the phone or you can’t disconnect from a project and that’s alright, it’s part of the job. Here’s the thing, that can’t be you all the time. It’s something I struggle with. Well what if I’m not there? What if I go without checking my email an hour? What if I go on vacation and something happens? What if I leave work an hour earlier… so instead of staying until eight tonight I leave at seven and there’s breaking news?
We think we’re doing the right thing. We want to show everyone… hey I’m here all the time whenever you need me, but that’s not the message we’re really sending. Our leaders aren’t feeling empowered, because we’re always there to make the call. Some employees might feel micromanaged, because no matter what…you’re going to be there to tell them what to do. Our people are not growing, because you are making all the decisions, all of the time. To be fair, sometimes we need to be the ones to make the final call…but a lot of times that’s not the case.
I thought always being there showed how dedicated I am, I now know I was very wrong.
So here’s my takeaway…take time for you. Take the sick day if you need it. Plan a vacation when you can. Go have lunch at school with your kid. You work really hard and you deserve that time. Our job is too great to let yourself get so burned out you have to walk away. You don’t just owe this to yourself, you owe this to the future of our industry.
Another highlight from my time in Austin, our conversation on inclusion. People don’t feel like they are being represented in the stories we tell. It’s time to really have those tough conversations with your newsrooms. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company where this is already happening. Here are some things to think about in our coverage…. Do we only go to certain neighborhoods, when bad things happen? Do we paint some communities in a bad light based on stereotypes? When we look at our rolodex of experts, is it diverse? Are we really doing the work to get all sides of every story? How are we bringing different voices into our editorial meetings? These are all things that we as news managers must ask ourselves and our teams.
Then we must find ways to improve where we fall short.
Those are just two of the topics that were covered over four days. I don’t want to give too much away, in hopes that someone will read this and want to get the experience for themselves. Through all of the lessons, the best part of this experience was the people. We were a class of 20, chosen out of 60+ applicants. I now feel so connected to people who were strangers just a week ago. We shared our struggles, our victories and so many other personal pieces of ourselves. We all even left with a buddy, someone to hold us accountable. Someone to lean on when we’re having a tough day. Someone to share our successes with.
To all my other fellows…our leaders and speakers.. Joan, Kevin, Stacy, Andrew, Michael and Dick… thank you for one of my best career experiences.
This project is doing great things and I cannot wait to see the impact it is going to have in the lives of my 19 new friends and our newsrooms!