10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a News Director

It’s crazy to think it’s been 10 years. 

It’s been 10 years since I arrived to a duopoly station in Abilene, Texas slightly scared out of my mind — doubting myself even before I walked through the door. 

It’s been 10 years since I took a deep breath behind my desk pondering how in the hell I managed to get there — and questioning whether I deserved the position of news director.

Thankfully, I had some great mentors to guide me as I developed confidence.  Over the last decade, I’ve had some success, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes.

 Here are 10 key things I’ve learned in 10 years as a news director:

1. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

The mistake I regret more than any other was telling a longtime news anchor we’d undoubtedly renew his contract some 12 months later when it was up for renewal.  I had been in my position for a few months and didn’t anticipate the economic downturn that would follow.  One year later, I had to go back on my word.

Fun fact: once out of work, he decided to run for office and was elected county judge. Guess he won that one, huh?

2. Help others reach their goals

 There’s no greater feeling than seeing someone find success and knowing you played a role in that.  Ultimately, it’s our job as managers to support and guide people toward making the best decisions for themselves and their families.

One thing I’ve learned along the way: goals change — and everyone’s aspirations are different. I’ve learned to take as much pride in the producer who leaves to become a stay-at-home mom as I do in the reporter who lands a top-market spot. 

3. Feedback, feedback, feedback

While still a producer who hoped to become an ND, I vowed to provide plenty of feedback once I became a manager.  While it gets difficult to find the time to sit down with folks and discuss their work, it’s crucial.

I can directly correlate periods where we provided regular feedback with higher newsroom morale.

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4. Stay one step ahead

Nexstar CEO Perry Sook recently told a room of news directors to take time to sit back and plan.  He couldn’t be more right.  It’s critical we’re always thinking about the next step to continue evolving.  If not, we’ll be left behind.

Additionally, you’ll find your good ideas get replicated by others.  You can take a second or two to vent, but then it’s time to ask yourself “what’s next?” 

5. Take controlled risks

In day to day operations, I always encourage others to take risks — just take steps to minimize potential harm.  We’ll call that a “controlled” risk.

As a producer, I can remember trying to put together a fast-paced, high-action show and watching it all go to hell when we hit the air.  At the time, I blamed the production staff.  Years later, it’s clear I was the problem.

Take risks — but leaders set others up for success.

6. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong

I think I’ve always been pretty good in this area (it helps to be married), but I regularly have to remind myself to admit out loud when I’m incorrect.  One of the biggest mistakes I see younger or less confident managers make is failing to admit when they screw up or fail.

If you expect employees to confess mistakes, you have to hold yourself to the same standard.

7. Don’t conform to a job description

No matter your position, you can’t get stuck in a “that’s not my job mentality.”  Over my 10 years as a news director, I’ve led station social media efforts, helped manage promotions staff, coordinated sales projects, pitched concepts to clients, organized community tours, emceed station events, edited sweeps packages, run camera during Christmas Day snow live shots, and helped guide the careers of dozens of journalists that didn’t work for me.

Even as news director, I still regularly post stories to the station websites.

You know what all that makes me?  A little more indispensable.

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8. View turnover as opportunity

Early in my career, I viewed turnover as personal.  Why did they leave me?  Did I not create a strong enough environment?  Was I not a good boss?

If you go back to lesson #2, you realize people have goals — and sometimes those don’t include you.  And that’s ok…

As managers, we should look at turnover as the opportunity to create change and bring new energy to our environments.  What type of person and/or attitude do we need to improve our current situation?  Turnover can be an opportunity for long-term improvement.

9. Treat people well

As a manager, I haven’t always made decisions people agree with.  That often leads to tough conversations and circumstances. 

I’ve always tried to go back to the golden rule.  How would I want to be treated in this situation? 

While I’ve had some rough patches with employees over the years (usually because of mistakes I made), I think I’ve been largely able to quickly repair those and move forward in a positive manner.  

10. Stay positive

One thing I’ve learned over the years: negativity stifles progress.  When you’re worried about what didn’t happen (or didn’t go well), you’re not concentrating on what’s next.  Issues need to be addressed, repaired, and then forgotten.

I’ve always listed attitude in each job description I’ve posted.  While we can work with you on your skill level, we can’t teach attitude. Attitude is everything.

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In some ways, these 10 lessons relate to all of us — no matter our position.  If you’re just starting out in journalism or broadcasting, take these to heart.  Read over them and question how you can improve yourself.

They may just help you with #4 😉

3 thoughts on “10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a News Director

  1. Austin, I loved that you’re genuine in your writing and we can relate to your experiences as a manager, news and otherwise. It’s our people that make the team and we sink or swim in their performances. So as a ‘leader’ I appreciated your thoughts on not asking a team member to do anything that you wouldn’t do. The ‘can do’ attitude starts with the leader. People respond to concern and interest from their leader, they’re individuals that require a leaders time to shine in their role and leading them individually and collectively is a must. Keep up the good work! I wish you continued success.

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  2. I totally agree with everything here. Treat everyone with respect. Be willing to get your hands dirty. Show them you’re willing to help them get to wherever they want to go.
    I always try to be positive. Sometimes it’s tough to manage being positive to my GM, particularly when he wants to add another newscast (without spending any money)! lol

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