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What makes a good editorial leader?

What skills and qualities do newsroom leaders need to respond to the challenges and opportunities of today’s industry? International editorial consultant Alan Geere has some answers.

by Simone Flueckiger simone.flueckiger@wan-ifra.org | March 7, 2019

Currently pursuing a PhD in editorial leadership at the University of Lincoln, Alan Geere has a pretty good pulse on how newsroom leaders are navigating the challenges of today’s news media environment, one dominated by rapid technological advances and changing economic conditions.

During his 40-year career in newspaper management, media development, consulting and academia, Geere has visited some 200 newsrooms, held executive positions at a variety of newspapers in the UK and abroad, and spent years teaching journalism at a number of universities.

Ahead of his appearance at the World News Media Congress, June 1 – 3 in Glasgow, Geere shared some of his insights and learnings on editorial leadership. One piece of advice? Don’t lose sight of the community you’re trying to serve.

WAN-IFRA: What are some of the most needed qualities for leadership roles in the news media industry today? How much have these changed over the past years?

Alan Geere: Publishers relying on existing editorial leaders to take on more responsibility – note the UK trend for an editor-in-chief having overall responsibility for a range of titles – leads to a lack of quality candidates to take on editorial leadership roles. This is a reflection of both poor recruitment policies and limited access to leadership training and development which need to be addressed before leadership joins Linotype machines and shorthand notebooks in the newspaper museum.

What are some of the main challenges for people in editorial leadership positions?

The squeeze on staff numbers and the increasing reliance on technology has led to journalists in many newsrooms confined to ‘indoors play’. While some old hands – talking about age 35 plus here – lament the fact that they don’t get out as much, or at all, younger colleagues have never really done that. Email interviews rather than face-to-face or even the telephone, watching meetings streamed from the venue rather than attending and the latest love affair with data journalism all encourage working in front of a screen. The result of all this? The community, however that is defined, is not observed let alone scrutinised, newspapers and their websites are full of ‘news other people want you to print’ and thousands of real people stories go untold. The challenge for editorial leaders is to harness the technology to develop new working practices that incorporate the best of worlds – old and new.

Do you anticipate any changes in the way newsrooms will be managed in the future?

I think it’s important to delineate between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’. Getting the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing (management) is relatively straightforward – and may even be task performed by robot before long! The nuances of leadership, with an emphasis on how different interests meet, merge and are negotiated, will continue to be defined.

What is one piece of advice you would give to today’s newsroom leaders?

Get out more! Out of your office and into the newsroom and out of the newsroom and into the community. With metrics and data literally at your fingertips it’s easy to be the dog wagged by the tail of content analytics. Be a force for excellence, change and challenge in everything you do.