‘Think as the people around you think’: Gaining a better understanding of our workplaces

As part of the American Press Institute’s Changemaker Network, which seeks to connect and support journalists from newsrooms around the country, we sponsored a few journalists in the network to attend the 2017 Online News Association conference. They were all first-timers at the conference, and we asked them each to share something that they learned by connecting with other digital journalists from across the world.

There’s a moment in “Godfather II,” one of my favorite movies, in which Michael Corleone advises someone in his mafia organization “to try to think as the people around you think.” It’s not one of the more famous lines from the “Godfather” films, but it has always resonated with me, especially as someone who navigates in the world of journalism. It speaks to the curiosity we should all aspire to, especially as people who are tasked with informing the public and holding people to account.

I thought about this movie quote again during my first-ever visit to the Online News Association conference. The three-day conference in Washington, D.C., offered me the opportunity for career enrichment and also, yes, to try to think as the people around me think — particularly people with whom I share a work space. (Not to imply media outlets are like the mafia. Hang in there. This all will make sense in a moment!)

Try to think as the people around you think.

The best example of this for me came during a session on women in the industry. Titled “Wonder Women, Unite! Navigating the Digital Workplace,” the session provided me an opportunity to understand better the issues women face in the workplace, including how to negotiate for better pay and the significant role of advocates. (It’s important to note that the session took place before the allegations about sexual harassment perpetrated by powerful men in media, such as Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Charlie Rose and many others, had come to light.)

Though I was one of the few men in the session – a fact noted by fellow attendee Lindsay Claiborn, who tweeted “Glad we’re having these conversations, wish there were more men in this room to hear it” – I felt comfortable absorbing and listening to this discussion.

As a newsroom leader and manager, I took away invaluable insights into how best to approach these issues, and perhaps even be proactive about them with my female colleagues. The panel, which included Kat Downs of The Washington Post, Latoya Peterson of ESPN and Ariana Tobin of ProPublica, discussed the idea of “salary clubs.” Salary clubs are meant to be a small group of people from inside and outside your newsroom whom you can confide in to discuss how much they make in their respective jobs. These clubs can help inform the members about what the market will bear for any particular skill-set, thus arming them with more knowledge when negotiating salary and benefits for a new job or when advocating for a raise in an existing job.

Having a healthy, safe discussion about what people make can at least be the beginning of a larger conversation about retention and how best to be in tune with larger concerns of newsrooms.

Before leaving D.C. to head back to Seattle, I already started discussing doing something like this in my newsroom with female colleagues. With Seattle in the midst of a skyrocketing cost-of-living problem, the issue of salaries will only continue to get magnified. Having a healthy, safe discussion about what people make can at least be the beginning of a larger conversation about retention and how best to be in tune with larger concerns of newsrooms.

There were other examples during the conference of gaining insight that helped inform me as a journalist and more specifically as someone who was tasked with taking great care over issues of diversity and inclusion in my newsroom, as well as coverage of race and gender in our news report. But being able to sit in on a session specifically geared toward women in the workplace was immensely valuable and helpful. I hope future ONA conferences continue to be mindful of important subjects like this. And I hope that more men will engage in these discussions and seek to think as those around them do.

Ed Guzman has worked at The New York Times, The Washington Post and most recently at The Seattle Times, where he was the paper’s first race and gender editor. He left the Seattle Times in November and is now the senior communications manager for the Sightline Institute.