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Stephen Adler: 'newsroom management - good, bad, and indifferent'

Reuters is rolling out a "culture-and-values training program" for journalists promoted to newsroom management jobs.

It focuses on soft skills - offering more appreciation to colleagues; giving feedback quickly, constructively, and honestly; assuming positive intent within the newsroom; and listening better and less judgmentallyAnd it provides exercises that help build these skills, editor-in-chief Stephen Adler (photo) said in an internal blog posting seen by The Baron. He quickly added: "Trust me, the training is better than I'm making it sound.”

Managing in a news organization is quite different from managing in a typical corporate setting, Adler noted. “Most journalists love nothing more than chasing, and nailing, a great story. It's thrilling, satisfying, unpredictable, and as fresh as the news itself. In contrast, journalists are notoriously disdainful of process and bureaucracy, suspicious of authority, and uncomfortable with hierarchy. Becoming a manager is seldom the goal - and a promotion, however flattering and even lucrative, may mean less time doing journalism and more time attending meetings and making PowerPoint presentations. Hence, there’s often a good deal of ambivalence about rising through the ranks - an ambivalence less obvious in the corporate sphere.

“Compounding the challenge for the newly promoted, many news organizations don’t provide much in the way of management training, assuming that great reporters will - presto - make great team leaders and that no special skills are required. Perhaps this is part of our charming egalitarianism and our penchant for living on the edge. And, of course, reporters, with their own well-honed suspicion of authority, are often none too keen on being managed, and have a way of making that perfectly clear.

“The unfortunate result is that some new journalist-managers, having accepted a promotion with trepidation, fall back on what they know, and manage the stories that have been added to their remit rather than managing the teams that they now lead.”

New leadership training courses and several other initiatives targeted at developing managers are under way at Reuters, Adler said. “Participants are working with mentors, taking management classes, getting more formal feedback, and practicing new skills outside their comfort zones. I'm hearing good things from people taking part. Opportunities such as this will be available to more leaders over time.

“And we're paying close attention to ensuring that managers have more information - about strategy, budgets, timings, usage data, and customer feedback - so that they can do their jobs better and share this information with their teams. If you’re a bureau chief or EIC, you have been getting these materials from me regularly since early in the year.”

Adler, who joined Thomson Reuters in 2010 after four years as editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek - said he had a boss once who did two special things that he would never forget and that epitomised management at its best. “First, though he was very busy and often kept me waiting, once I got in his office he always gave me his complete attention, as if my concerns were the only things on his mind. That was enormously gratifying. And second, several times as I was gearing up to ask for a new assignment, he approached me first - and suggested it was time for me to try something new. It showed he had been thinking about me, and not just about my stories, and that he had taken the trouble to know me well enough to anticipate my needs before I brought them to his attention.

“That's the kind of manager we all want to have and - if we are newsroom leaders - to be.” ■