What motivates journalists?

A friend of ours has just told her boss that she’s applied for a new job.

After around two decades at the same hotel, she wants a change.

The boss’s response was tragically predictable.

“Is it just the money?” he asked her.

It isn’t.

She wants her own defined job, with set timings rather than the zero-hours, gap-filling unpredictability of her current role.

But, until that moment, no one had ever asked her what she wanted from the place where she has spent virtually half her life.

Her boss’s kneejerk reaction speaks volumes about the woeful poverty of imagination of some managers.

So what does motivate people – and are journalists any different?

I think most people in our profession like to make a difference, to help achieve some sort of positive change, whether it be galvanising extra support for a hard-up charity, or seeing off a controversial council cutback.

Hand in hand with that comes the desire to be part of a community, to play a leading and influential role in our neck of the woods, telling untold stories in a way that unleashes our creativity and imagination.

But in actual fact, all of this is mere detail – the examples to illustrate larger truths which apply to the entire working world.

These then, are my top ten motivators:

  • being valued: we all need feedback, praise and validation. We thrive on day to day thank-yous and well dones, as well as more structured monthly or annual award schemes. Researchers have suggested that in the highest-performing businesses, managers dish out six times as much praise as they do criticism.
  • being part of a team: in the best workplaces – and even in some mediocre ones – your colleagues are your second family. We spend large chunks of our lives at work, and those hours are made more bearable – and if things are going well, hugely enjoyable – by team spirit, family feeling and a sense of belonging. That’s why watercooler conversations  and social events are so crucial, why getting days off to an energetic start really matters, and why little gestures from editors such as bringing in food or making tea for their teams make a difference.
  • proper communication: people need to be listened to, to be involved in decision-making, to have defined goals and roles set out clearly by organised and inspiring leaders, and to have regular 121s and appraisals. In difficult times, when jobs are under threat or teams stretched, that communication needs to be warm, face-to-face, frequent and as clear as day.
  • pride: everyone needs to feel pride in what they do, and to feel that their employer’s values and ethics mirror their own.
  • development and training: we need to feel we are growing in our jobs, that we’re making progress and adding to our skills and experience, particularly in a fast-changing digital age. Again, appraisals and 121s can be the key to this, and can uncover hidden ambitions and talents.
  • a role which plays to our strengths and character: some of us value autonomy, while others revel in constant collaboration and teamwork. Managers need to offer the right balance of delegation and direction, and of support and stretching, bearing in mind the different people in their teams.
  • good working conditions: bosses can underestimate the importance (or rather, the importance in negative terms if things aren’t right) of a pleasant environment, decent IT, humane rotas, and kitchens with fridges full of coffee and milk.
  • work-life balance: this means managers who genuinely care about their staff, who take an interest in them as individuals outside of their workplace roles, and respond to their hopes and fears, joys and woes. It means flexibility over sick children and elderly relatives – and knowing when to send people home because they’ve worked long enough. And it means ensuring your staff take their holidays.
  • being trusted: I think we react best to systems based on the premise that we are trusted to do the right thing, rather than suspected of doing the wrong thing. Micromanaging and blame cultures aren’t helpful.
  • fairness: this is perhaps the most important of all.  We need to see that everyone is pulling their weight, that there are no favourites, and that people are respected as individuals. We want pay, days off, extra demands and work patterns to be reasonable and predictable. And ‘do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t cut it any more.

As I said above, my friend didn’t want more money.

And, while most journalists wouldn’t say no to an extra grand here and there, the majority of the ones I know aren’t purely motivated by cash.

Which is fine and dandy.

Because the most important, sustainable and successful ways of motivating people cost nothing at all.


One thought on “What motivates journalists?

  1. One other important thing is creating some kind of physical product. I work in publishing and it is rewarding to know that our ultimate objective is the production of a book that people can hold in their hands. A journalist, at least in print journalism, also has that feeling. I suspect that many people lose motivation in jobs where there isn’t this product because there is no real end objective in sight. There are other rewarding jobs where there is no physical product such as the work of doctors, nurses and teachers and these too allow you to feel that your work has real value.
    However, in our computerised world of abstract files and documents, I think many people miss the sense of purpose that comes with making something real.

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