Press Club panel focuses on newsroom leadership

Panel_1Photo by Christina Daly
Members of the leadership panel included, from left, Scott Brinton, Joseph Shaw, Debbie Henley and Mark Lukasiewicz.

Confidence and empathy are key character traits that any newsroom manager must possess, members of a Press Club of Long Island panel on leadership agreed during a Nov. 29 talk at Newsday in Melville.

The nearly two-hour discussion attracted an audience of roughly 25 journalists and journalism students. Keith Herbert and Kim Grabina-Como, both of Newsday, were instrumental in arranging the talk.

Panelists included:

Joseph Shaw, executive editor of the Press Newspaper Group.
Debbie Henley, executive editor and vice president of Newsday.
Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University and a former NBC News executive.

Scott Brinton, the Press Club president, executive editor of Herald Community Newspapers and a Hofstra professor, was the moderator.

Newsroom managers must be confident in their decision-making, panelists said. That implies that they have the needed skills and experience to make critical decisions quickly, often in high-pressure situations. At the same time, they must be confident enough in themselves that they can and will admit publicly when they have made mistakes, which can happen in a frenetic environment like a newsroom. Taking ownership of mistakes builds trust among staffers, according to the panelists.

Newsroom managers must also be empathetic with staffers. Journalists work long hours, often at odd times, and are many times pulled away from their personal lives and families to cover unforeseen events. That is, in part, why newsroom leaders must treat staff respectfully and be flexible in scheduling. Journalists will give their all to stories if they know they will be treated honestly and fairly.

Panel_2Photo by Christina Daly
Henley and Lukasiewicz both said newsroom managers need to be empathetic with staffers and respond to their need for a work-life balance.

An audience member wondered about how newsroom leaders can maintain morale given that many staffs are shrinking and journalists have increasingly come under attack in recent years.

Lukasiewicz noted that morale at NBC News was high when he recently left his post there. A number of television news networks and stations are increasing coverage, not reducing it.

Henley and Shaw agreed that journalists have come together in new ways in recent years. There is a greater sense of camaraderie among colleagues — and even among rival publications. Shaw said that East End weekly newspapers that have traditionally competed hard against one another recently collaborated on a major investigative story examining opioid abuse, which he said was not confined to a single community but was a regional issue.

Panel_3Photo by Christina Daly
Shaw spoke of the need for deeper, higher-quality journalism.

Shaw also said that newspaper journalists have reexamined their coverage and shifted priorities. They might avoid the more routine stories that newsroom editors have in the past thought were necessary to cover just because they thought they had to. He spoke of the mundane Board of Education meeting at which nothing was expected to happen that a reporter would have been sent to cover just in case something might have come of it. Now that same reporter might instead be assigned to a big-picture, issue-oriented story that truly matters to readers. He cited the example of a recent three-part investigative series on recycling that the Press News Group undertook.

Another audience member wondered about whether it was possible, as a woman, to have a family while also working in a demanding profession like journalism. The panelists all said yes. The key, they said, is to find a newsroom with understanding managers who believe a work-life balance is a necessary ingredient to maintaining morale and achieving success as an organization.

Panel_4.jpgPhoto by Christina Daly
The newsroom leadership panel attracted an audience of roughly 25. Above, Nadya Nataly, editor of the Freeport Herald-Leader, asked whether it was possible to balance family life with the demands of a high-pressure profession like journalism.

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