Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building the Perfect Journalist

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building the Perfect Journalist

Article excerpt

What makes a good journalist?

That's a question editors ask themselves regularly, whether they're sifting through a stack of resumes to fill a staff vacancy or staring at a blank evaluation form when a staffer's review is due.

The answer, of course, will vary among different editors and different publications. The prized attributes will depend on the editor's personality and the outlet's requirements and production cycle.

What all editors and media should have in common, though, is the means of recognizing and measuring the attributes, whatever the editor determines them to be. At least, that's the way the Greeks looked at the issue more than 2,000 years ago.

The Greeks considered what makes a person virtuous. Going beyond listing the various traits that embody virtue, the argument centered on how to attain them. On the one hand, was Plato and Socrates who proposed that virtue is an innate quality - some people are good in and of themselves, while others are not. On the other hand, Aristotle and others pondered later whether the quality is defined by actions - is a person, regardless of her inclinations, virtuous because she performs virtuous acts?

As a journalist in your day-to-day job, the issue may be cut and dried: We report actions, deeds. We don't have the ability or the time to weigh moral incentives or propensity.

So it should be for managers. Like journalists in our evaluations of the subjects we write about, performance is the key. The editor-manager's job is to identify the areas of the employee's job that are important measures of that person as a journalist, what activities that person should be performing and how he is performing them.

But that only covers evaluating past performance. The editor also should try to direct future performance, and evaluation time is the best opportunity to do it. Both in rating a worker's efforts and in making recommendations for improvements, the manager would be wise to eavesdrop on the debate between Aristotle and Plato over whether virtue is an internal quality or a series of observable actions.

From a managerial perspective, many human resources professionals contend that behavior should be the basis of an employee's evaluation. Managers can't judge intangibles like effort and attitude, so they should focus instead on describing the specific, quantifiable behaviors that define the job in question. To illustrate, what follows are some positive qualities in journalists and matching behaviors editors should look for and encourage:

* Meeting deadlines. Sounds easy, doesn't it? A story is either done on time or it's late. But ask: What deadline is the reporter meeting - the drop-dead, presses-roll-in-10-minutes deadline, or the one that allows the desk to plan the page, edit thoughtfully, maybe even order up an accompanying graphic or photo?

Anybody can turn in copy at the drop-dead deadline; whatever is on the screen, you send. But editors should expect reporters to work ahead so copy editors, designers and graphics people can complete the package, rather than wait until the last minute to make additions or changes.

How does an editor get reporters to turn in copy before the final deadline? One way is to let them set their own deadline. The behavior the editor is trying to develop here is the ability to complete duties in a finite period, to set realistic goals for the available time and resources. Let the reporter set her own deadline. Instead of asking the editor, "How much time do I have to work on this? …

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