Wednesday, January 16, 2008

no frustration so keen

Things are not always what they seem.
My friend Drew is involved in a situation at work that I would categorize as "rats eating his brain." He's been taking part in an effort to improve the caliber of the newspapers he and his co-workers are producing. This is entirely an employee effort; management is not behind it, and doesn't care one way or the other who's involved with it, as long as the papers get produced each week. Because it's employee-initiated, it's not like it's even a career-building move, except potentially for improved journalistic skills, showing extra initiative, and things like that.
Here's the problem: Jeff Zuckerman, the fellow who came up with this effort, has no idea what he's doing, from everything Drew has told me. I've met Zuckerman myself, back in my own newspaper days, and I agree that he's a likeable fellow and believes in the importance of the press and everything. He's a believer in the importance of media as the Fourth Estate, representing the interests of the public and advocating on their behalf.
The problem I saw with his writing, and what Drew is seeing with his leadership in this meeting thing, is that Zuckerman lacks imagination. His writing is flat and uninspired, and never gets beyond the merely obvious of who, what, where and when to get into the why and the how -- and his leadership in the reporters' meetings is like that as well.
Rather than looking at any individual stories and soliciting feedback from the rest of the group on how to follow through with a deeper line of questions, or anything like that, his leadership consists of general questions like "What did everything think of the papers?" or "Does anyone have any ideas?" They're not bad questions in themselves, but when that's all he asks -- and it is -- discussion flounders and goes nowhere, and no one learns anything, although everyone's become good at parroting what the editor said at the staff meeting.
So, as I say, Drew feels like rats are eating his brains at these meetings. He started going to them in hopes to contribute something to the newsroom environment, and hoping he could deepen the professional relationships he has with his co-workers, but the banality of Zuckerman's questions is driving him up the wall. He essentially feels that to use the time productively, he either has to stop going to Zuckerman's meetings, or he has to bring his own ideas of what to do and usurp control of the meeting without appearing to do so.
Frustrating, and I feel his pain.
Things are not always what they seem.

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