Here are some basic tenets of management as practiced in the Editorial Division at the Daily Press. This list is by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive. But it provides enough rudimentary hints to get you through just about anything you'll face as a manager.
And if you don't find something here that helps, fall back on common sense. In all things, it should prevail.
Use the team.
There are a lot of brains at work here. They can help make a bad thing good or a good thing better. Solicit ideas from your subordinates and from other editors. There's a lot of creativity available nearby. What we do can affect a lot of people – news people, other departments at the paper, our readers. It helps to kick an issue around so that we get a chance to consider its ramifications and to come up with the best solution.
Listen to your instincts.
There's a little person inside you waving a flag. Pay attention to her. If she's whispering an idea, it might be a good one. You'll kick yourself for having thought of it if you didn't move on it and someone else did. If the flag is a red one, heed the warning. If something bothers you, act on it, question it, make a note of it. The red flag might be a false alarm. But, then again, it might not be.
We correct our mistakes. All of them.
If we've published something incorrect, we want to own up to it and set the record straight. We make a practice of aggressive correction of factual errors, even when the error is of no particularly dreadful consequence. And we correct mistakes even when no one has complained.
If nothing else, we want our readers to know that we know we made the mistake.
We make a practice of knowing how the mistake was made, so that we can prevent a recurrence and take appropriate responsive action.
Important: Involve the person who made the error so that he can learn from the mistake. Nobody likes mistakes and nobody likes corrections, but making of them a learning process salvages great value from adversity.
How to make the boss feel better about the correction: Have the correction ready before anyone asks for it and know precisely how the error occurred.
How to make the boss crazy, which has unpleasant ramifications: Make a mistake in the correction.
You own what you do.
When something important happens, make sure there's a piece of paper in the responsible party's file. That goes for the good stuff, maybe even more than for the bad stuff. An employee's evaluation file should be filled with notes about our many successes.
If the bad stuff is particularly grievous, make sure there's an appropriate document in the file and in the hands of the offending employee. Before you do that, see the rule about making big decisions alone.
A good supervisor is slow to take credit and quick to take blame. When the goodies are being passed out, deflect everything you can to your staff. And when the bad stuff hits the fan, make sure you jump between it and your staff. You can pass it on appropriately and constructively later. The people you work for will thank and respect you for it.
But do something.
You shouldn't let the fear of making a mistake freeze you or the people who work for you. Trying something is better than trying nothing, and if it goes wrong, you'll at least have learned something. But do yourself a favor: Don't try it for the first time in a situation where there's no escape. It's like diving into unfamiliar water; it might be awfully shallow.
No surprises. We communicate.
Tell your boss, tell your colleagues, tell your staff. If you can't find your boss, tell your boss's boss. The no-surprise rule lets your boss know that you're on top of the problem, that you cared enough to issue the warning and that you're looking for a solution.
Keeping your staff on board allows them to offer ideas and solutions for the challenges that we all face together.
As you disseminate information to the people who work for you, don't blame it on someone higher up, don't fall into the "Jane said ..." or "Jack said ..." syndrome. When you do, you abdicate your authority and become a mere messenger. Make the message your own. If that means talking it out – even arguing about it – with your boss, do it. But when the debate is over, embrace the idea as if you had come up with it yourself, even if it's not exactly the way you'd do it.
The worst things that can happen to you: The boss hears about a problem in your department from someone other than you. Your staff misses out on something important because you failed to tell them about it. Your boss learns about something big and ugly when she reads it in the paper.
If you can say something nice, say something nice, the more detailed the better. (Those general "good jobs" have a hollow ring.) If you can't say something nice, say something constructive. In survey after survey of newsroom attitudes, reporters and copy editors complain that they don't get enough feedback. Make 'em happy and help 'em grow.
When in doubt, ask. Not knowing is not an excuse. You have immense resources at your disposal: lots of co-workers, a well-stocked and well-wired library, a major communications corporation. The inverse corollary: Don't ask the editor where the bathrooms are, and don't let your staff do it, either. Be resourceful before you ask a dumb question whose answer you can easily find on your own.
If it doesn't make sense, it's probably not right.
Rules and edicts tend to collect like seagulls to a garbage dump. They also tend to lose a great deal in translation from original notion to the chiseled-in-granite version. If you are presented with some block-of-stone idea that sounds goofy, question it. Some of these things spring from spurious parentage. Some of these things get passed badly from hand to hand. And if it's something we've "always done that way," maybe it's time to change. Be an innovator.
Grow a successor.
We put a premium on developing talent. That requires a supervisor's attention and care. Be a teacher. Be a mentor. You can expect the same thing from your boss. Make the wisdom your own and pass it along.
If you don't ask for it, you may not get it.
Don't wait for something to happen. Make it happen. Don't assume that your reporters will know the best way to approach the story; coach them through it, probe for angles, help stimulate some ideas. Don't assume that the photographer will have an inspiration for an illustration; share your own inspiration. If you think it will improve the paper, ask for it.
If it's broken, fix it.
We make a practice of trying to make things right. If that means reshooting a photo assignment, tearing up a page or rewriting a story, do it. Don't let expedience stand in the way of excellence. And if you have an idea – for the newsroom or elsewhere – share it.
If you have a case to make, make it with empirical data, not supposition or anecdote. If you don't know, say so. Then find out.
Use your judgment.
We can't make rules for everything, and you wouldn't want to work here if we did. So you sometimes have to make decisions without a net. Think about it, ask about it, consider it and do something. You're here because someone had a reasonable degree of faith in your ability to think, to judge. Be the gatekeeper. If you thought about what you were doing and did it because you considered it right and appropriate after thinking about it, you'll find lots of people standing behind you. They may want to talk about the decision, debate your conclusion, but they'll defend it. On the other hand, you'll find that a lapse in judgment – the failure to exercise it – is quite lonely.
In all matters requiring judgment, refer to the rules about using the team, making decisions alone, communicating and asking smart questions.
Try the golden rule.
Above all else, be fair. Treat your charges the way you'd like your boss to treat you. Put yourself in their shoes and ask whether you'd want to treat yourself that way.
This is supposed to be fun.
Keep your humor about you. Make work a joy for the people you work with. That doesn't mean you can't be demanding; indeed, a job well done carries its own rewards. But it does mean that you recognize this is more than just a way to get a paycheck, that we're all here because we want to be, not because we have to be.