Buff Newsrooms: What It Takes To Be A Journalistic Leader

Journalists sometime wonder if newsroom leadership requires more than a kindly nature.

Well, yes.

“Employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business,” a new study argues. 

That’s especially true in the news business. 

“The numerous challenges facing journalism—changing economic models, the need to integrate new technology and declining audience—necessitate a robust consideration of the role of leadership in the journalistic field,” write Gregory P. Perreault, associate professor of media literacy at University of South Florida, and Samuel M. Tham, assistant professor at Colorado State University, in their study "Effective Leadership in Journalism: Field Theory in how journalists evaluate newsroom leadership.” 



They continue, “Based on interviews with U.S.-based journalists (n=27), this study reflects that–while bad boss stories remain popular–journalists largely saw their bosses as exemplars within the field, inspiring their work, and helping grant shape to their career goals.”

“Not all traits typically seen as markers of effective leadership were representative of what journalists saw as effective leadership… in particular, journalists reflected quite little on persuasiveness among their newsroom leaders. A much heavier emphasis was placed on their supervisor’s expertise–as reflected in their symbolic capital–and their ability to communicate effectively–which seemed to reflect a level of localized social capital.”

They add, “Expertise or being good at what they do was the second major theme of leadership that emerged from interviews. This was demonstrated by their ability to perform a task or having expertise in the field allowed them to provide oversight to their employees. Attention to the finer details of the job is something that respondents respect in their leaders. Several instances of this appeared as qualities that their supervisors possessed.”

Case in point: One respondent described their supervisor as “quite good at mentoring [journalists] and working with them to define their help them learn how to navigate dealing with people on the local city council or the cops, you know, officials, whomever.” 

And where does such leadership fail? “When participants indicated a lack of leadership from their supervisor, they often linked it to a lack of internal social capital, with comments such as ‘It is clear a lot of times he has not made much effort to come up to speed on some of our ongoing stories,’” the authors conclude. 


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