Back in the newsroom, with new insight

 

Four years after trading in the newsroom for the classroom, it’s invigorating to find myself back in the familiar swing of over-brewed coffee, non-stop banter and the creative whirl of editing stories and designing pages. I should thank young Henry Blackburn Seeligson, all 9 pounds, 10 ounces of him, for giving me the opportunity to pinch hit while his mom, BBJ Editor and Publisher Vanessa Blackburn, is home after giving birth May 21.

Working at the BBJ with some of my most talented current and former students makes the experience all the more satisfying. Reporters Lance Henderson and Isaac Bonnell saw my red ink drenching their papers for many a quarter in Western Washington University’s journalism courses. Interns Colin Simpson, Gabrielle Nomura and Paul Moore also share this distinction. All of them also share a rock-solid sense of ethics, a love for telling people’s stories, a passion for writing, and, in Paul’s case, a keen eye for photography. Like Vanessa before them, they were all editors of the campus paper, The Western Front. They are creative, hard working, team players who care about the world and their place in it.

When people learn I’m a professor, I often get (and, OK, occasionally participate in) “kids these days” complaining. Sense of entitlement … not willing to pay their dues … want too much too soon … no respect for authority. What’s important to remember, and what I have been learning as a professor, is that this generation can’t be measured by the standards of previous generations. Yes, as one of my colleagues says, the Millennials were raised in an era when “everyone gets a ribbon for participating.” (see page 14 article about managing Millennials). And while sometimes that it seems tough to light a fire under them, it also means that they work well together. Millennials have a strong sense of shared responsibility. They have confidence in their ability to contribute creative input.

That’s a far cry from my first newsroom job, where the order of the day was to keep my head down, do as I was told, not ask questions, and if nobody was yelling or cursing at me, that meant I was doing OK. I had a boss who called me “Catherine” for an entire summer and I was too intimidated to correct him. “Feedback” meant a clear message I was on my own and nobody was going to hold my hand. Being forged in that fire made me learn quickly, reinforced a strong work ethic and made me self-sufficient. But it didn’t give me the constructive feedback that would have broadened my learning or encouraged creativity and collaboration.

Asking for input from junior staffers isn’t touchy-feely, it’s smart. Millennials have a thing or two to teach us about creating workplaces that feel less like widget factories and instead harness the power of teamwork. Millennials also have a thing or two to learn from their predecessors about patience, perseverance and the paying of dues.

Rather than bending Millennials to their elders’ will, managers should meet them where they are, capitalize on their creative ideas and help them learn to be open to what more experienced people in the field have to teach.

And now I’m off to stand over desks and grumble about meeting deadlines. Sheesh. Kids these days.

 

Carolyn Nielsen is The Bellingham Business Journal’s summer editor-in-residence. She teaches journalism at Western Washington University.

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