At the end of last year, my news director sent the staff a year-in-review e-mail. In it, he talked about what we’d accomplished and what we could expect in 2005. He said staff changes would be inevitable in the next year, as is the case in any newsroom.
Six months later, he was promoted to our sister station in Madison, Wis. In his going-away message, he said he didn’t plan on accounting for one of those changes.
It’s just one of many I encountered in my 18 months at my station.
Now, don’t get me wrong, change is a great thing in the news business. Change is what keeps us on our toes. Change helps us deliver the news to our viewers and readers in fresh, innovative and captivating ways. I’m grateful I encounter something different each day I walk into my newsroom.
But sometimes, change hits you like a sack of bricks, and it’s not always easy to cope.
I’m sure you know a few people who have a hard time dealing with change. It can be uncomfortable, and even scary, at times. I remember being very nervous the first time I met my new news director. What would his news style be like? Would he have a more authoritative approach, or would he have more of a mentoring-type style? I admit that I had a few sleepless nights before I met him. After all, you’re talking to a girl who cried when her old boss told her he was leaving for Madison!
But eventually, I learned how my new news director operates. I’m still getting used to his style, just like everyone else in my newsroom.
Personnel changes are probably the hardest to get used to, especially when co-workers leave the newsroom. In my 18 months at News Channel 7, four reporters, two photographers, one meteorologist, one associate producer, one sports director and one news director have left. One of our anchors put it best in a recent blog entry: Friendships go beyond the newsroom, and when someone leaves for a better job or for a bigger city, it’s bittersweet. But by adapting to change, you end up forming new friendships with the people who join your newsroom.
How you adapt to changes in your newsroom says a lot about you. You learn how you operate under deadline pressure, when breaking news occurs, or when there’s an equipment crisis.
For example, in May I was sent to cover a massive wildfire in Central Wisconsin — breaking news at about 2:30 in the afternoon.
I turned my van around and headed for the small town of Big Flats. Once I arrived, I quickly interviewed witnesses and fire officials, and shot some footage of the smoke, flames, witnesses watching the fire and crews arriving to help put it out. After relaying the information to my newsroom, we decided I’d do a phone interview for our 5 p.m. newscast and try to make it back in time for the 6 p.m. newscast. I arrived at the station at 5:50. We got some of the first footage from the fire on the air. For our 10 p.m. newscast, I edited a news package on an old-school tape-to-tape editor — which I had no clue how to use.
But I learned that I work well when facing changes, and I finished the package on time. It was one of my proudest moments at my station.
I recently attended a great workshop on managing change effectively. And I picked up some helpful hints that hopefully will help as you encounter changes in your newsroom:
* Be Flexible: This pretty much goes without saying. Your flexibility, whether dealing with new job duties or a shift change, will help make you more adaptable in your newsroom and better prepared to deal with change.
* Be Innovative: This is a key component for delivering the news, and also dealing with newsroom changes. Finding new ways to accomplish your goals can increase your flexibility and adaptability.
* Work on Stress Tolerance: Change often comes unexpectedly; this is a key element of managing change. Take a deep breath, squeeze a stress ball, or do something else to calm yourself when you get frazzled.
Change is never easy. But with the rate in which we deal with change, I feel much more prepared to deal with anything that comes my way. Eventually, I’ll also leave my current newsroom setting for a new challenge. Until then, I’m sure I’ll encounter several other changes, which I’ll be ready to handle.
Amanda Lutz graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., in May 2004. She is a reporter/photographer at WSAW-TV, the CBS affiliate in Wausau, Wis. She has been a SPJ member since 2000, is a former national SPJ student representative and is working on starting a SPJ chapter in Central Wisconsin.