Adventures in Newsroom Angst
Ruth Witmer, Indiana University
Good news and bad news, Shorties: You’re not alone in feeling some tension in your newsroom. Or even feeling a little (or a lot) of angst yourself about how things may or may not be going with your Shorthorn colleagues. The truth is that in any group or organization — including newsrooms — tension is bound to pull like a rubber band. The key is keeping it from snapping, says Ruth Witmer, advisor to the Indiana University student newspaper. The majority of angsty cases boil down to power, intimidation, and/or insecurity. Here are her tips for lowering angst:
- Know and abide by The Shorthorn’s code of ethics and your work agreement. Both provide the framework for that you are expected to do and can expect others to do. If you’re not doing what you are supposed to do (reporting at least two stories a week, showing up to work on time and, well, working, etc.), you put a burden on someone else … and that causes tension. And vice-versa. Maybe you’re picking up for other students who aren’t doing what they agreed to do. Refresh yourself on the code of ethics and your staff agreement, and recommit to doing the job well.
- Refer to the staff manual when you are not sure what to do or how to do it. The 200-page document is essentially your textbook for The Shorthorn. (Believe it or not, a large number of school newspapers do not have this resource and ask to use ours as a model for what it should be like. This is a powerful tool at your disposal.). Using your staff manual regularly can help you resolve angst (nerves, anxiety about assignments) before it manifests.
- Know the difference between situations that involve you and those that need to involve you. Sometimes, you can find yourself pulled into a situation that has nothing to do with you — and shouldn’t. Avoid involving yourself in gossip, rants, and other situations that could hurt you more than your desire to “fix” things.
- And on fixing: Change your language. Ask yourself, “Is this is a situation I can help with (not fix), or is this is not a situation I can help with.” You cannot fix a person. [Trust me, folks. 😉 ]
- Be nice. Be grateful. Say thank you for the small stuff. Write thank you notes.
At the end of the day, remember this: Of all the things you could be doing, you are doing this. You have a common goal.