GUEST POST: Rockford editor on Myers-Briggs in the newsroom and the future of journalism

One of the things I love about working at GateHouse Media is how many great, smart, talented, driven, passionate people I meet. There are a lot of such people with GateHouse.

Last week, I was sitting in office of Linda Grist Cunningham, our editor at the Rockford Register Star, talking about all of the work we have ahead of us and the transformations hitting our industry. The subject of Myers-Briggs came up and Linda made an interesting observation about the personality types you typically find in newsrooms and the kind of personality types best suited to our more turbulent media environment. They’re very different people.

As we talked, I thought, “This would be a great topic for a blog post.” But it was clear that Linda knew both more about Myers-Briggs than I do, and had far greater insight into the topic than I could muster.

So I asked Linda to write a guest post, and happily she agreed.

Here is her post:

Here’s what we’ve got: Thorough, exacting journalists who are systematic, hardworking, careful with detail; who want things to be grounded in fact and analyzed logically. Journalists who can thrive in chaos — as long as most of the things around them is structured and well-organized, preferably with deadlines. Journalists who can gather information steadily, then reach an assumption quickly. They’re prone to being comfortable with one (or, maybe) two interpretations of an idea or event, and “two sides to a story” is a religion. They work best with others who are realistic and focused on facts and results.

Here’s what we need: Journalists who are innovative, strategic, versatile, analytical and entrepreneurial. Journalists who enjoy working with others in start-up activities that require ingenuity and unusual resourcefulness; who create innovative, logical, organized and decisive strategic plans around valid concepts — and who can get them done. Journalists who can see a dozen possibilities when others can see only “two sides of a story.” Journalists who delight in a “slippery slope” just for the rush of the slide, and who then figure a way to bring it all together and get it done.

With apologies for a taking liberties with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators, which I pretty much lifted verbatim above, the men and women whose styles and personalities have been the strong foundations of our print newsrooms struggle to meet the expectations of the “cyber-fiber” integrated newsroom.

I once heard the statistic that 80 percent of our newsrooms were ISTJs (that’s Myers-Briggs shorthand for a version of the “what we’ve got” above.) I can’t cite the stat, but after almost four decades in newsrooms, I happily accept it as true. The ISTJs fiercely uphold the First Amendment, get things spelled right, get the facts, send the bad guys to jail, get the press started on time, and don’t screw up grandma’s obit. They keep their own counsel and aren’t particularly inclined to be openly enthusiastic.

(Think I’m kidding? Ever watched a roomful of journalists listening to a particularly rousing speaker? Nary a one nods, and heaven forbid that they applaud. I have watched 900 editors at an American Society of Newspaper Editors convention sit without a single clap of hands, not even a polite one, at the conclusion of a presidential — that’s U.S. president — speech. When those same editors gave Richard Nixon a standing ovation — years after he “retired” — I was sure I was at a publishers meeting.)

That’s who we are, and that made us a formidable force when we were exclusively about the two-dimensional print newspaper. That’s not going to get us into the new media world. We need — again apologies to Myers-Briggs — a whole bunch of ENTJs and ENTPs (see description above.) Since we can’t and shouldn’t replace the ISTJs, which would be not only insane, but impossible, and since personality styles are non-transferable (we’re born that way, folks), how do we go about building the newsroom staff we need?

Lobotomies are out. So, we do three things:

  1. Capitalize on the strengths of those exacting, fact-driven “traditional” journalists’ brains.
  2. Hire the innovative brains when the openings occur so we move toward a diverse mix of thinking styles and personalities.
  3. Teach new tricks.

*Capitalize: Just because they aren’t the first ones to grab the wireless laptop and video camera doesn’t mean our journalists can’t or won’t transform themselves into the new-fangled models. They will, and they’ll do it well. But, we can’t dump it all on them at once. Customize the explanation and the training; detail the facts and show the logic behind what we want them to do; explain the whys and the pros-and-cons. Develop realistic time lines and implementation plans. Create order and structure around the disruptions to the things they’ve been doing for years. Give them plenty of time to ponder and mull, read and research, ask questions, absorb and analyze. Challenge them to suggest other methods and solutions to arrive at similar goals. Give them plenty of time and room to let go of the past. They’ll get to the same place as the innovators; it just takes longer.

* Hire: We shouldn’t have to spend much time on this one since we’ve said it for decades. Let’s just do it: Instead of filling positions with the same kinds of people and job descriptions as the ones who vacated them, decide what you need to get the new jobs done, and hire for that position, not the one that’s open. None of us are going to get a bunch of additional bodies, so we have to hire smartly, and that may mean no more ISTJs for a while.

* Teach: Your “early adopters” and even your “early adapters” are going to be jazzed by the possibilities multiple platforms bring to “doing news.” They’ll be your leaders and drivers. But, give the ISTJ-type folks a chance. Grab a handful of the undesignated newsroom leaders — those reporters, photographers and copy editors who toil over the traditional print newspaper and to whom everyone listens no matter what. Hold them close. Bring them into the first brainstorming sessions. Give them the cool, new, expensive equipment. Challenge them to try it. Tell them that you need them to help lead the newsroom into the future. Instead of lamenting their lack of enthusiasm, make it important that they be among the leaders — and give them the opportunities to do some serious journalism with some nifty technology. It will work. And, once they find out that they can have fun and do serious stuff at the same time, they’ll tell the rest of the newsroom. Think of it as “Mikey likes it….”

If you haven’t taken Myers-Briggs before, I recommend it. It can be pretty insightful. It’s best if you take it through a professional environment where experts can help you understand better what it means and how to apply what you learn. That said, you might be able to find a free Myers-Briggs test through Google, which can still give you a basic idea of your personality type.

FWIW: I’m an ENTP.

2 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Rockford editor on Myers-Briggs in the newsroom and the future of journalism

  1. I’m astonished. The proliferation of ISTJs in the newsroom has contributed to the collapse of the free press in the United States; INTJs are much better suited to accountancy. The true journalists are ENFPs/Js and INFPs/Js.

  2. If Linda Grist Cunningham has a newsroom full of the people she describes, I can understand why her paper would be boring. Is it circulaton up each year?

    This piece is a classic case of forming an opinion and then writing to support it.

    And on the subject of ASNE, what president did not get an ovation from ASNE editors. Generally, those editors fawn over anyone they invite.

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