Because the TV business is so small, the lines can blur sometimes in work relationships inside newsrooms. Too often managers, especially first time managers, really want someone to talk with and choose an employee. If this isn’t a clear indication that more mentors are needed in the TV news industry, I don’t know what is. When you move to a new town, take on a leadership role and work insane hours, it can be hard to meet people. You can’t confide in your boss because you have things to prove. But going the employee route is really unfair.
That’s the element we are tackling with this article. I get DM’s and emails all too often from journalists wondering what to do when the boss starts dishing on the newsroom politics. This is a catch 22. If you say, “I don’t want to be part of this” you can make an enemy out of that manager. BUT getting access to this “knowledge” can lead to you blurting out inappropriate tidbits when you feel backed against the wall. So let’s talk through what this scenario really means.
Being the Confidant:
* Does not protect your job
* Does not make you more powerful in the newsroom
* Does give you great insight into inner workings of your newsroom
The biggest misconception is that being the confidant means you have more job security. Many assume that means they must be considered very solid in their own job and that they are “safe.” Not true. I witnessed many managers have a session with their confidant, then later throw that same person under the bus in a managers meeting. This is not an absolute, but it does happen more often than not. At their core, many managers know using an employee as a sounding board, is not smart on many levels. Instead of correcting the situation, they would prefer the confidant disappears. Maybe that means putting you on an opposite shift. Maybe that means dumping you all together. Do not assume that the manager is protecting you, as he/she confides in you. In that regard you could really be at a disadvantage.
So this next point now becomes more clear. You are not more powerful in the newsroom. In fact you can be more alienated and vulnerable. Your co-workers do not like that you may know more about what’s happening than them. If you are labeled a favorite, it is like being the teacher’s pet in school. A certain percentage will not like you just for that. They fear you are “reporting” what employees are saying about management in general. It is never good to be known as the newsroom snitch or a supervisor’s spy.
Your best defense: Listen and never give advice back. You do not want to snub the manager, and potentially open up wrath, but you DO NOT want to end up in the middle of all the political firestorms. Listen, and only tell the manager: “I have full confidence you will handle everything well.” Then get away as fast as you can. The manger wants advice and reassurances. The same statement over and over is a delicate way to encourage the manager to find a new way to cope with the issues. Long term, you just do not want to be the confidant.
While you are getting the scoop, use it to figure out how the management team deals with each other. Knowing who the pot stirrer is, who the blamer is and who the martyr is can be very helpful when they come to you asking for something. Quietly try and sort this out for your own advantage and keep it to yourself. Stay out of the politics. If other co-workers ask if you are the confidant, say only that you are just doing your job, and being told how to do it better. Let the co-worker take that how they wish. You do not want pressure from the staff to be the person that tells management all the issues in the newsroom. Nothing good will come of that.
One final but crucial thing to keep in mind, never use the knowledge you have to attempt to curry favor with the ND or another manager you fear is out to get you. Do not let on that you know anything. Do not ever bring an issue up with the ND then say, “Well your EP told me (fill in the blank).” Knowledge is not power if you share that you have inner insight. It can make you a liability. Stay out of it all. If you have an issue that is driving you crazy, DO NOT use your inside knowledge to push your own agenda. You will pay for it. Do not say “I know you were warned about these live trucks needing this part by the managing editor on June 10th.” or “I know you were told this reporter is consistently making fact errors by the EP on multiple occasions.” If you must bring an issue up, make the argument the way you would with no inside knowledge.
Bottom line, your goal needs to be delicately getting out of being the manager’s confidant. You want to give very little in the way of advice, so the manager moves on. Long term, as tempting as knowing the station gossip is, you will be better off. There are too many ways you could set yourself up for trouble.