I’ve learned many lessons in my time at the Center for Investigative Reporting. Some I knew already. Others I had forgotten. And then there were some new things I should have known and had to learn the hard way.
Managing can be a chaotic process that you cannot control. If you can’t handle good and bad surprises, can’t let strong and creative people succeed, can’t handle being challenged, and can’t deal with disappointments along with successes, then don’t try to lead a nonprofit – or a for-profit, for that matter – news organization. You must understand in your gut and heart that learning is a continual process.
- Be honest and direct. With staff, with funders, with partners and collaborators. We are all learning, growing and experimenting, and those processes require openness.
- Take risks. Innovative and creative environments are charged with uncertainty, and taking risks means that failure has to be acknowledged. Not everything you try will be a success.
- Don’t forget your mistakes. They will be among your and the organization’s best teachers.
- Build your team. Help them succeed, and make sure you include people who are skilled at and passionate about things you don’t do well or even understand. There are endless new opportunities for journalism organizations; your team should have the skills, experience and diversity to respond.
- Trust your team. In this age of technological innovation, new forms of storytelling and potential for large audiences, you need a creative, passionate team that you guide but do not control. Do not think for others; let them think for you.
- Collaboration is crucial, internally and externally. Easier said than done.
- Understand, manage and control your ego. Others get credit, not you.
- Stick to your principles, ethics, instincts and experience, but be willing to change your mind, too, and realize you have just learned something.
- Stay calm. Sometimes the best response to a crisis is to stay calm, even to do nothing. Time and events can solve what felt so overwhelming in the heat of the moment.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. It’s a basic tenet of reporting: If you pay attention, the story – or the solution to a problem, or the next great idea – will emerge.
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In the spirit of journalistic transparency, “Reinventing Journalism” is Robert J. Rosenthal’s account of taking over leadership of the Center for Investigative Reporting and launching California Watch, its statewide reporting team. This report was written at the request of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with the aim of helping fellow journalism organizations, particularly nonprofit startups, learn from CIR’s experiences.