Newsroom leadership Q&A: Michael Smith, Regional Executive Editor, Western Carolina Group
Michael Smith is the award-winning executive editor of GateHouse Media’s Western Carolina Group of newspapers, which includes the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, the Gaston Gazette, The Shelby Star and the Hendersonville Times-News. He shared some of his newsroom leadership knowledge with GateHouse Newsroom in this special guest post.
GateHouse Newsroom: Can you describe a risk you took that brought about success in your newsrooms?
Michael Smith: It was a risk when we decided to regionalize the management of the four Western Carolinas dailies, but we took the risk so that we could generate new efficiencies as a regional newsroom and so that we could channel our resources into content generation rather than management. That risk has paid off in the creation of new reporting positions. We have also eliminated some redundant work. For instance, we put together one editorial page for all four papers now, and each paper can substitute local content in the page where it can. We are putting out feature packages that are shared between the four papers. And we are working together to cover regional issues and events. It hasn’t all been upside. We have little depth and backup at some properties when a manager is out for some reason, but overall we’ve been able to channel more resources into reporting by consolidating management and sharing a common workload.
GHN: What is the best piece of leadership advice you can pass along?
Michael Smith: Recognize the individual nature of the people you lead. I always cringe when a manager insists that he treats everyone the same. You can treat everyone equitably, but you can’t treat everyone the same. People, especially journalists, are individuals. They have different motivations, different ways of communicating. The best way to reach one reporter may not work with the reporter who sits in the next cubicle. We have to take time to learn the individual nature of the people in our team so that we can lead them effectively.
GHN: What qualities do you think are most important in a newsroom leader?
Michael Smith: A newsroom leader has to have a good sense of the community and a vision for the news organization’s role in that community. He needs good judgment and a decisive nature to implement that judgment. It’s hard for people to have confidence in a leader who can’t make a decision or delays it routinely. An effective leader sets out his vision for the organization, communicates that effectively to his team, and then decisively leads toward that vision.