A project of Democracy Fund
The Local News Lab has been archived as of March 1, 2023. This page will remain online but will not be updated. More info.

July 20, 2017

What attributes are at the top of your hiring list? ‘Talent. Honesty. Drive.’


By Marty Kaiser, Democracy Fund Senior Fellow

This is part of a series of Q and As with leaders at news organizations. I asked leaders to think about the challenges they face in their news organizations and to share guidance and advice. Whether your news organization is small or large, a start-up or more than 100 years old, the issues are often the same. This series on managing change in a newsroom was supported by Democracy Fund, and is co-published with Poynter.

Subscribe to Democracy Fund’s Local Fix newsletter for more of the best writing, ideas, and tips for those working in local news in your inbox every Friday.

Garry Howard has been Director of Corporate Initiatives at American City Business Journals since 2014. He is responsible for a number of critical programs across the ACBJ’s operating units and corporate departments.  He works on recruiting and talent development, training, and content initiatives.

A graduate of Lehigh University, Howard began his journalism career at the Trenton Times. He also worked at The Home News, the Rochester Times-Union, St. Petersburg Independent and the St. Petersburg Times. In 1987, Howard joined The Philadelphia Inquirer where he became deputy sports editor.

He left The Inquirer in 1994 to accept the executive sports editor’s position at the Milwaukee Journal, becoming the only African-American sports editor at a major metropolitan daily at that time. In 1995, Howard was named senior editor of sports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was promoted to assistant managing editor in 2000. In 2010 joined The Sporting News as editor in chief.

Howard is a past president of the Associated Press Sports Editors and past president of the NABJ Sports Task Force.

Change can be difficult for news organizations.  What is one piece of advice you could give leaders of today’s news organizations?

First off, know your strengths and know your weaknesses. Too often, leaders in news organizations have this feeling of invincibility, believing that they know the answer to every damn question. Certainly not the case. Good leaders know what they are able to accomplish and seek others for advice about areas in which they may have some doubt. My strength, for example, was seeing the total big picture and quickly figuring out who would work well at every job within my department. My weakness was that if you worked hard, even though you may have been average, I would continue to help you along when often I should have cut my losses.


We all learn from watching others. Give me a leadership lesson you learned from observing someone else?

Using the home telephone to have discussions with members of my staff was a huge tip that I stole from a top editor.

He would call me at home or on my cell at almost anytime to talk about a touchdown or key home run, with a “Did you see that?” And then, smoothly, the conversation would gradually transition to something work related. I would feel very comfortable because the talk was flowing and we both were able to speak our viewpoints. I always felt that he was in touch with what I was doing and that interaction helped me focus on whatever task it was that we were discussing.

I would do the same to my staff, even going so far as to make our office directory include the names of spouses and children, so if they answered the phone, I could say, “Hello, Dee Dee, how are you today?” And she would respond with, “Hey Garry; I’m doing well. How’s your wife Donna?” And so on. And before you know it, I have built another relationship, with my golf writer’s wife in this case, that helps me coach my respective writer or editor. Building solid relationships with your staff that move outside of the newsroom helps you gain respect and credibility. You need both of those traits to be successful.


How do you instill in people the motivation to develop new skills or improve needed skills?

Do you want to be the best? Well let me introduce you to Dr. Edward Trayes, professor of Journalism at Temple University who was by far the most instrumental journalism teacher in my career. Upon winning a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Internship for the summer of 1981, I was selected to attend a one-week crash course at Temple, led by Dr. Trayes. It changed my life.

He gave us tests on the tests, from sun up to sundown. He made us memorize the AP stylebook, from A to Z. He crammed every piece of journalistic fundamentals down our proverbial throats and then told us to get ready for more. Do you want to be the best? “This is what it takes,” he would say. And new skills ensure that you are on top of your game and thus, The Game. So, work, work, work. Always.


How do you deal with people who don’t have the skills necessary for today’s news organizations?

I simply tell them to find something else to do. Quickly. It takes talent and incredible intelligence to do this for a living and if you are not committed or lack the requisite skill set, it’s almost impossible to catch up. You either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t, stop wasting the time of those who do.


Even if you are not the newsroom leader what can you do to drive the change needed to meet the goals of the news organization?

Help build a harmonious newsroom where “everybody knows your name!”

If there is an environment where individual goals and team goals are applauded, everyone will essentially do the right thing and work with each other on every level. This helps foster a community of one as opposed to a corporation of 100 different entities. Work as one, no matter what level you are on at that particular moment.


The vast majority of people don’t work well in high stress jobs.  You get depleted worrying about things such as —  Am I going to lose my job? Is the company going to be sold? A sense of security gets lost. It becomes easy to blame the boss. What can leaders do to help their staff understand leaders can be less than perfect and what can be done to make the staff more tolerant and understanding?

Compassion. Compassion. Compassion. And that means listening to your staff’s point of view, how they interpret their role, what they think can help them be better at their position. Listening opens the door to effective management and those who don’t really listen – and then react specifically – usually don’t last long.


What advice do you have for leaders facing a tough decision?

Make a list of the top five moves you could make to remedy said situation. Pick the one with which you are most comfortable. And then execute.


If you have to deliver bad news to your team how would you suggest doing it?

In front of the entire group, without a script and with sincere honesty.


When you have to make a decision that you know will not be popular among your team, how would you handle it?

I would open it up to the entire group and ask them, straight “What would you do?” This helps them see the situation with a bit more clarity. And then after that discussion, I would again, with the entire group, inform them of my decision and every reason behind said decision. Upfront and honest. Only way to operate.


How do you get support or advance your ideas with people who don’t report to you?

At the daily meeting, which is yours and yours alone.

It gives you the opportunity to hold their attention and prepare for the day’s tasks. In my sports department, attendance was mandatory if you were working that day. I had prepared a detailed budget of everything that was going into the newspaper. Even agate clerks, who reported to one of my subordinates, were told to attend. I can earn their support and advance my ideas because I shared my view on how I felt we were doing and gave the instant feedback on every edition that we published.

Nothing fosters support more than a sense of belonging and by attending a meeting every day, a meeting that has fun built into it as well (we, for example, gave penalty minutes for bad puns and not knowing an answer to the daily quiz that was taken from that day’s newspaper; minutes had to be served after the meeting adjourned), your staff will become closer as a unit. And have fun, to boot, doing a job that is very difficult and filled with pressure.


When someone is given a role supervising people for the first time, what is one piece of advice you would provide?

Don’t raise your voice yet speak with authority. Get to know the new people you are supervising by looking up their LinkedIn account, Facebook, bio, friends, etc. I would always advise a new supervisor to take his or her staff to lunch. Every single person, alone. Not to talk business. But to talk about their respective lives, their journey, where they want to be, all aspirations, views of the world, loves and dislikes, and on and on. This helps build a bond where they can begin to believe you when you say you have their best interests at heart.

You must know your staff to get every ounce of talent out of them. This makes you a person, not just a boss. This makes you palatable. This helps you bond with your staff.


When hiring what are three attributes that would be at the top of your list?

Talent. Honesty. Drive.


Readings that helped Howard as a leader: “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson and “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.  

These books helped me  when I transitioned from sports journalism to business journalism.  Smart and Street help you know that selecting the perfect person for the perfect job is a huge key. It helped me focus on my next step and realize that I can’t do it alone. But if you select dynamic individuals with the correct traits, you will have set yourself and your team up for major success.

(Lead photo/CC Leslie Richards) 

Are there other leaders we should highlight in this and future series? Tweet your suggestions to @TheLocalNewsLab and @Poynter, or email to localnewslab@democracyfund.org.

Martin Kaiser headshotMartin Kaiser is a Senior Fellow and Consultant at the Democracy Fund.

Kaiser is a nationally recognized journalism media consultant specializing in leadership, digital innovation, ethics, investigative reporting and editing. He was Editor/Sr. Vice President of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 1997 to 2015. Kaiser’s newsroom won Pulitzer Prizes in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and was honored as a finalist six other times from 2003 through 2014. Columbia Journalism Review wrote that the Journal Sentinel had one of the most acclaimed watchdog teams in the country, period. 

Editor & Publisher magazine named Kaiser its Editor of the Year in 2009. In 2011, the Milwaukee Press Club honored him with its Headliner Award for leadership in Wisconsin, only the second time a journalist had been selected in the 55-year history of the award.