Adopting a mentor has been fashionable advice. My mentors at my first two newspapers thought like me, acted like me, sported the same cynicism. A fine security blanket, but I didn't learn much from them because they were a reflection. I hung with the people who told me what I wanted to hear. I did not spend enough time with the journalists rocketing to stardom.
Who were the stars? They were suck-ups, brown-nosing their way up, I told myself. Or they got lucky, caught a few breaks on a big story.
Had I looked closer I would have seen that they were multi-talented: sure, they were good at "office politics" but they were also good at sourcing, networking, interviewing. The same "people skills" they practiced on newsroom managers were the same skills they practiced on the beat.
It wasn't natural talent; they had a process, a way of sizing up people. They always had a standard set of interrogatories or mental checklist they applied to every situation. They had some tools and they created their luck. They were not always popular with the rank-and-file (hey, they were making the rest of us look bad!).
A closer look would have shown me that they had another talent: they were usually patient teachers, willing to take time to coach if anyone would only listen. At my next newspaper, I latched on to these people, studied them, learned how and why they did what they did. And then I did what they did. And then I got lucky. I wish I had gotten lucky a whole lot sooner.
A few thoughts from me:
Newsrooms are filled with quirky folks and I do mean quirky. Take special care not to write off anyone for superficial reasons. That is, unfortunately, human nature, but do your best to overcome it. Look beyond the right crowd and clothes, swagger and pedigree. Dont overlook colleagues just because theyre quiet or doing journalism that looks different from yours. Many newsrooms could be transformed in the most dynamic and positive ways if journalists actively sought to know more about the professional strengths and interests of their colleagues and those they supervise.<