Unfortunately many newsrooms struggle with clearly defining their news philosophy. This can be very confusing and frustrating for the journalists in the trenches. So how do you survive when your ND, AND and EP all have different philosophies?
The first step is looking at who has the most hands-on influence on your work each day. If your EP is next to you in the trenches all day, and the AND and ND only sometimes step in, do what the EP asks. If you call in to the AND for script approval each day, do what that person expects. This will not protect you every newscast, every shift, but it will lessen your being in the middle of conflict.
If you are executing what that main manager asks and another manager steps in and asks you to change it, it is ok to say “I can do that, but (EP/AND/ND) asked me to do this. Which should I do?” If the person now asking you to do something opposite outranks the other manager, do what he/she decides. But you should mention to the lower ranking manager that you changed it specifically at the other manager’s request. Most of the time, the lower ranking manager will acquiesce. If you are told to change it back, tell that manager that you need management to come to a consensus on this issue. You really do not have a choice. If the manager just storms off, do what the highest ranking manager asks. Make sure you document what happened in case you are asked later.
If you are called in to the news director’s office and asked why your reports or newscasts are not meshing with the stations news philosophy, do not lose your temper and yell that everyone needs to get on the same page. (Yes, it is true, but remember from the “Taking Ownership” article, you still have to be a team player and leader even when you are put in extremely unfair situations.) Instead, say “Can you please define that philosophy for me in a sentence or two, to make sure I am clear on it.” Often the ND will then say what the philosophy is. Say “thank you for clarifying. That will help me bring up specific coverage questions as we design our coverage each day.” Then try and get the hell out of the office. If you cannot get out, and are asked “Now I want to know why you did not understand that?” simply say that there are some conflicting messages but you will do all you can to be true to the news philosophy just defined to you. Again, try and get the hell out of the office.
The one thing you must do no matter what is document when you are told to execute different things. Try and show a pattern. That way if you get a bad review and truly feel you are in danger you can use this information to try and show that you are getting conflicting messages and need clarification so you can fully do your job. A response to a review that includes documentation like this does get serious notice.
If you are brought in to the AND’s office and you and the EP are grilled about why you are not executing certain things, stay quiet as much as possible and let the EP handle it. After all, this issue is really between the managers. You can only do so much. If you are pushed by them, it is o.k. to say “I want to give you all 110 each day. I need a consistent message to do that.” Then, leave and let them have it out.
The biggest thing to keep in mind, as frustrating as dealing with these mixed messages can be, is that you can survive it. Most of the time, managers are more at risk in a “confused” newsroom than staff. If your EP is rebelling against the AND and ND, a time will come that the EP pays for that. Same with an AND who wants to work against the ND. Just do the best you can and try and let your frustration go, with the knowledge that the odds are in your favor and that you will end up best off.