Personality conflicts are a constant in newsrooms. There are no shrinking violets and bluntness reaches new levels. That said, there are times when it is obvious you aren’t just having a heated, “in the moment”, run in with a boss. Sometimes that boss is singling you out and trying to wear you down.
Since this business is extremely subjective it is hard to fire people. And despite what you might think, most corporations try to avoid firing when possible. To an employer firing someone means paying unemployment as well as bankrolling a job search. That’s not great for the bottom line. Many corporations also fear lawsuits from firings. So a common route to get rid of someone is to make their lives so miserable they walk out to spite the station. Managers count on this. But in this day and age, with such awful future job prospects, you probably want to avoid letting your temper get the best of you. So here’s how to live with the daily grief.
Document. This is true no matter what particular manager you are talking about. You want to be able to show that the boss was unclear with expectations. This is key because it helps eliminate “cause” (i.e. – a violation of written or well established policy or job duties) if you are fired. Most newsrooms are too disorganized to provide two key things to protect themselves: detailed job descriptions with a listing of duties, and reviews. Without them, companies are more likely to have to pay out unemployment and possibly part of your contract to get you to go away. The reason: they cannot show “cause” unless you don’t come to work or clearly violate a company policy or do not live up to your job duties. Without a listing of your job duties and clear cut daily expectations, companies back themselves into a corner. So if you have a manager that seems out to get you, make sure you ask what the exact expectation is each day. That means when you get an assignment from that manager you end the conversation with, “So you want me to get this interview and package this way at this time?” Then write notes on the conversation and any follow-ups so you have documentation. Often as the day progresses much of what you discussed changes. Does the manager or a producer call with the changes? Often the answer is no and that works in your favor if someone is after you. Newsrooms are notorious for being disorganized. So when the end of the day comes and the manager calls and chews you out, you now have a legitimate response. Listen, then let the person know that no manager, producer or assignment editor told you about the changes in expectations and that this oversight inhibits your ability to do your job. Then you again write down the manager’s reaction to this conversation. Make sure each time you document you include who called you, when and what they said. Yes, this is tedious. However, it may give you great leverage if you end up in human resources, being called on the carpet. You want to be able to show a pattern of the manager changing the expectations or job duties, with no warning, causing you to be unable to perform your job properly. The same is true if you are an anchor or producer. Anchors, make sure you figure out if you are required to copy edit for fact errors in your newscast. That is a key area where you could be set up. Producers, demand that managers define the audience and writing style of your show. Try to get those definitions in writing. A great way to do that is to design a format template that lists types of stories placed in specific positions in the rundown. Have a manager sign off. That helps you create a job description and expectation. If the playing field changes and you are not told to alter that template, it can help you protect yourself.
If a manager seems out to get you and that person oversees a particular day part, try to get a schedule change. Turnover is always happening and you can use that to your advantage. If possible establish a good relationship with the manager on the shift where you want to work. That way if someone quits, you can ask for a switch and possibly get out of the bad situation before the manager that hates you can build a case. Problem (often) solved!
Try to make sure when the manager threatens you, it is done in front of witnesses. Remember, with most companies, you have the right to a witness when you sit down with a manager behind closed doors. Most managers are taught to do this for their own protection and they are not going to offer you the same protection. Usually a manager brings in another newsroom manager. If that’s the case you can ask for the human resources person to come in. The human resources person will probably side with management, but they are also very aware of corporate policies. If that person sees that the manager simply has a personality conflict with you for example, the manager will often get a warning behind closed doors. If you can show that you were not given a clear directive that day and are now getting in trouble, the manager will probably get a lecture behind closed doors. If you are still leery of having human resources present there are other options. If you are an anchor, your co-anchor could be a witness. Reporters can have the photojournalist they worked with present. Producers could ask an assignment manager or another producer to witness the conversation. Having a co-worker present helps, because it ups the ante on the manager to exactly follow corporate policies. If that person makes an error, you may have bought yourself enough time to find another job before you get the axe.
Fight fire with fire. Confront the manager in a non-attacking way. That sentence seems contradictory, but it’s not. Here’s what to do: Come in early or stay late one day and sit down one-on-one with the manager that is giving you hell. Say you want to clear the air. Let the manager know you respect him or her and the job the person does. Often the manager will then fess up that you are not the problem, it’s actually a litany of other things. The supervisor may even apologize for jumping on you. No matter what, this conversation lets the manager know you are there to do a job and are willing to grow. Again, it gets back to the manager’s responsibility to let you know about your job performance and what you can do to get better. If the manager gets defensive and starts telling you that you stink and why, then you know where this person really stands and it’s time to get a witness for all future conversations.
Research this manager and find out the person’s quirks and weaknesses. It is possible that you have a habit that gets on the person’s nerves. If you can change your habit, the person may back off. It really is a small price to pay when you consider the difficulty of trying to find a new job in the current economic climate.
If it’s the news director who seems to be coming after you, try to lay low especially if you are working at a chronic third or fourth place station. These stations tend to go through news directors often. So, odds are high in these stations, that if you can avoid the news director’s ire, he/she will be gone before you will. Again, document, stay quiet and show up for work on-time. Make it hard for them to let you go without some sort of compensation. If the news director says you stink at producing, ask to work on the assignment desk. If the ND says you are a bad anchor ask to report. Buy yourself time to job hunt. Some news directors are disarmed if you fight to stay and will give you a shot at the other job for a little while.
Finally, if you are fired, write a thank you note to the manager that had the problem with you. Yes, write a “thank you” note. Make it brief and complimentary. Tell the person you appreciated the chance to work at that station and under that manager. Wish that manager luck in future endeavors. This is hard to do, but it might keep the boss from blackballing you later, when you’re looking for another job. Remember, this business is very small and everyone knows everyone else. Taking the high road never hurts you and could keep that now ex-boss from burning you again and again.