I’m obsessed by my newsroom obsessions

I shocked my parents the other night.

I was staying with them ahead of a visit to the Herald in Plymouth, my home town paper.

“What time are you going in?” my mum asked.

“I want to get there for 8am, so I’ll be leaving around 7.30,” came my reply.

“You don’t need to get up,” I added, having seen the look of horror on her face over this allegedly ungodly hour.

No one was forcing me to get to the Herald’s nice new offices at a time when there were only three people in the building.

But I wanted to indulge one of my obsessions: the morning newsroom routine.

Seeing how various newsrooms greet the day is a fascinating exercise. Some come to life slowly, while others have a more structured programme of meetings and shift starts.

The pattern obviously depends on which day it is for weekly titles, although the web and a drive to balance out daily workloads are beginning to even out these differences.

There’s no one right way to do it.

But, as I have said before, I like to see some proper punctuation to the day: with a sense of belonging cemented at the watercooler, kitchen or newsdesk, and a sense of energy, positivity and purpose created by an editorial team leader with a clear idea of the day’s agenda.

I got to talk about, and gather more observations on, a few more of my obsessions. In fact, I did a training session with some newsdesk folk and used the word obsession with slightly worrying regularity.

So what are the others?

  • Team spirit: Characterised by tea-making and mickey-taking, team spirit is what will keep people in our fold for longer, creating the environment for the craik, camaraderie and care that we all need.
  • Desk geography: When I was a news editor, I used to have all my reporters around me, so we were able to have one conversation, so that I could eyeball them all and so that I could pick up on flagging energy levels or story problems. I believe you need to be physically close-knit for the magic of teamwork to happen.
  • Beautiful writing: I was talking to a features writer at the Herald about the need to read great journalism – to wallow in the words of writers such as Zoe Williams, Miranda Sawyer and Andrew Rawnsley. She said that she felt some top writing was unattainable: “It’s like hearing Smoke on the Water, and thinking ‘I’ll never play guitar like that’.” No, I said. We can all become better writers. I believe that. I’ve seen ugly duckling, clunky dead hand writing turned into swan-like, picture-painting joy, time and time again.
  • Autonomy: Or rather, to quote my new favourite bit of management jargon, supported autonomy. Having control of your day – which is likely to involve another obsession, decent advance planning – is the first step in the battle to keep stress at bay.
  • Talking: While we’re talking, and listening, there’s more than a fighting chance that people are feeling valued, that career aspirations are being taken seriously, and that the little niggles that can spiral into major issues are being tackled. Time set aside for conversations such as 121s should be the best-spent time of all.

So there you have it. My obsessions. I’m obsessed by them.

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