The scene usually plays out the same way. I get an email from an employee, asking for a few minutes to talk. Or, sometimes, they appear in the doorway of my office and ask to come in.
I already know what’s coming. Someone’s about to give notice.
These are the bittersweet moments where I try to balance my pride and my self-interest. Often, these are folks I’ve hired in the three and half years I’ve been at The Press. Many are young, talented journalists in their first or second job who are going on to bigger markets or new adventures.
Of course I’m sad to lose the individual and concerned about how we’ll replace them.
But more importantly I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished at The Press and whatever role we’ve played in their future success.
There are excited discussions about the new job/city/boyfriend or girlfriend that is prompting the move. Sometimes, there are hugs, or tears (theirs and mine).
But there are never hard feelings.
Which is why the next part of the routine perplexes and bothers me. That is, once an announcement is made that someone is leaving our team, the haters immediately start up.
“Why can’t The Press keep people?” some ask, as if we run a zoo or a prison, rather than a news organization. “More proof that The Press is in trouble!”
Actually, I think that’s more proof that people will read any situation through the lens of their own beliefs. If they think The Press is in trouble or failing, they will use anything to reinforce that notion.
While I’m not naive enough to think I’ll change anyone’s mind who desperately wants to believe in the demise of local media, I do have a different take on staff turnover.
I’ve worked in newsrooms of all sizes in many different markets, in six different states, and with one exception, they have had one thing in common: they were fertile training grounds for journalists to perfect their craft before moving on to a new challenge.
The one exception was when I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the early 1990s. At the time, it was a huge, statewide newspaper with a circulation of 750,000, so it was a destination for journalists who had learned on the job elsewhere.
In the departments I’ve run, I’ve repeatedly told the talented senior editors and veteran journalists who work with me that we are a “teaching hospital,” a reference to hospitals that are affiliated with a medical school, in which med students receive practical training.
That means we take our role as teachers and coaches very seriously. We actively work on staff development, we encourage all employees to experiment with projects and expand their versatility, and we offer opportunities to staff who show interest.
In the old days, for example, a young reporter who wanted to move into a bigger or more challenging beat would have to wait his or her turn. Sometimes, that meant tolling away for years while a veteran covered that beat. Some editors called it “paying your dues.” Some younger reporters called it “waiting for them to retire.”
Either way, it was not an easy ladder to climb. Ambitious reporters sometimes gave up before their turn ever came. And they left the company.
Nowadays, newsrooms like The Press’ are leaner and more versatile. And, as a teaching hospital, we are more likely to give a young reporter a chance at a bigger assignment both because of need and philosophy.
For example, we had a reporter named Christian Hetrick who was hired to work on our breaking news team. He was right out of Rowan University with only an internship under his belt. After a few months, he expressed interest in covering politics. We worked with him to get him ready and eventually moved him into that beat, where he successfully covered the state takeover of Atlantic City, as well as local and state politics.
When he left earlier this month to take a job covering the New Jersey governor’s race for the New York Observer, his editors and I were really proud of him.
Dozens of other journalists have gone on to work at the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, some to win national awards, including a few Pulitzers. And many other excellent professionals have stayed at The Press for years, helping to make this organization strong.
The Press — and South Jersey — are great places to build a career and raise a family. And, if you are a young journalist looking to make a mark, it’s a great place to learn from some of the best in the business.
Kris Worrell is executive editor and vice president, news. Reach her at 609-272-7277 or KWorrell@pressofac.com.