Rate your boss: A positive force — or an empty suit?

Gannett employs hundreds of bosses to run advertising, production, newsroom and other departments. High-profile ones, such as USA Today top editor Ken Paulson (left), get lots of the attention; just look at the dozens of comments — for and against — written about him yesterday on this post.

Now, based on a suggestion from one of my readers, I’m wondering about your boss. “Do they do actual, noticeable work? Or do they sit around in suits and bust the chops of those doing the labor? Mine’s a chop-busting do-nothing,” the reader says.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Photo: Indiana University]

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19 Responses to “Rate your boss: A positive force — or an empty suit?”

  1. Jim Hopkins Says:

    One of my all-time best bosses was my first editor, Don Williams; he brought me into the business at the Pine Bluff Commercial in 1985. He was among a small group of dedicated First Amendment journalists who continue to inspire me today. Others include Max Brantley, formerly of the (now shuttered) Arkansas Gazette; John Costa, formerly of the Idaho Statesman in Boise, and Stan MacDonald, formerly of The Courier-Journal in Louisville.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve had some very good bosses and some that were terrible. I’m sure this is the same at most companies. On average I would have to say that I’ve had more less good than good and a handful of aweful, terrible, pathetic.

    The sad thing is that the really bad bosses probably have no idea and think they are wonderful while the really good bosses work hard to be a good boss and have no idea how much of a good boss most people think they really are.

    Wish I could say more but it would give too much away.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Our prepress director busts ass to ensure that all our sites are working as best we can with the levels of technology and staffing we’re allowed.

    My boss has implemented several consolidations to centralize various functions, and although we try to find positions for the displaced, it doesn’t always happen. I know my director feels very deeply the pain of anyone who is laid off, and makes every effort to minimize lost positions.

    In the past, we’ve been one of few departments that have actually met their budget obligations, and in return, our piece of the pie keeps getting smaller. My director, and the managers and supervisors under – they get the work done, and they’re not pricks while they do it.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    @7:49 – anyone can be a decent boss when times are good, bringing in donuts, throwing around raises. If your staff can still respect you while you lay folks off, well, that takes some effort.

    In my prepress shop, I try to be the “dad” figure (though I would never say this out loud – it seems too condescending, I just can’t think of a better way to put it).

    I protect them from above, fight their battles with the neighbors. I let them squabble among themselves, but step in when I need to. I teach, encourage, train. I hold them to reasonable expectations. I’m appropriately interested in their lives outside of the company, but I never infringe on their lunch hours.

    I’m friendly, but I realize that as ‘the man’ I have to keep a distance – and that part of the great American experience is bitching about your boss.

    Yes, this can be a lot of effort. And it’s not rewarded with an exceptionally huge paycheck.

    But as you sow, so shall you reap, and all that. I don’t mind coming to work, because I know we respect each other and whether we have to bust ass or take it easier that day, we do it together.

    I hope my staff sees it the same way. It’s very hard to get or give constructive criticism to the person who writes your reviews, especially if you ever got burned by any boss.

  5. Shirley Says:

    In more than 20 years with Gannett at four different papers, I had a lot of editors (or, from their point of view a lot of Gannett editors worked with me). I had a couple who were less than inspiring or distant. I had two who were real SOBs. Only one never gave me a chance.
    But of the good ones, Jack Willis at the Muskogee Daily Phoenix was the best. Closely followed by Denise Richter at the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier. And Dennis Lyons was absolutely the most fun. Willis left the paper and taught journalism, a real coup for the University of Oklahoma. Richter and Lyons went on to other papers.
    But it must be said that I learned something important from all of them, regardless of whether we clicked or not. Whatever success I enjoyed was directly tied to the quality of my ediors and the copy desk.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    6:59 I’ll second that. I’ve had one, out of four bosses, that I would say was a great boss. The other three were so side-tracked by their own personal agendas that they were difficult to be around. Out of those three, one was at least effective and successful. The other two…

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I’ve had two great Gannett bosses who worked very hard, led by inspiration, mentored, trained, taught and encouraged. They are Jim Rowley and Michael Kane. I am forever grateful.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    You forgot a category, Jim. I would separate the truly evil bosses from the empty suits. Empty suits do little to help, but aren’t wantonly abusive. Some hand out abuse just because they can.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    The middle management bosses appear to have been forgotten. They are not in the top echelons, but they are bosses. When it comes to circulation, ad services and advertising they can be the most tyrannical, uncaring and incompetent people on the levels which impact the average employee. In trying to save their own asses they push blame everywhere except upon their unqualified selves. In their defense, they never have the common decency to explain that they are being pressured from the top management.

    An occasional pizza or an ice cream sundae don’t solve the hurt!

    Location: North Jersey Newspapers

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Worse than the ones who do nothing are the ones who micromanage — like the GM at the television property (large market, east of the Mississippi) where I work. He has been known to derail meetings because he doesn’t understand something.

    Worse than that are the ones who come up with ideas and then “ooh! shiny thing!” and they completely forget. Our marketing director poured all of our olympics house advertising into an image campaign, but provided no extra resources to support it and, while the spots are still up and the web elements are still running, no one is paying any attention to it.

    My manager in particular tries to do his best but does not play well with others, suffers from an inferiority complex for being the youngest executive in the building (he also has a non-executive title), and has a tendency to tick off his employees by telling them how to do their jobs.

    We have one really good VP. She’s the only person who actively avoids negativity. So far, no one has anything bad to say about her.

    But one great VP — when she’s still answerable to the GM, and when the Marketing Director… ooh! shiny thing!…

    You get the idea.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    The Courier Post’s advertisikng department is loaded with incompetent people especially in management. The ad director is a moody incompetent who adds absolutely nothing and is a holod over from several previous regimes where who you know and what you did for the bosses (personally) is how you got your place in the company…everyone here knows this and sees this. The classified manager is so poorly qualified but is a buddy of and was appointed by the current ad director. This guy (classified mgr) walks around doing absolutely nothing all day and everyone sees it and is disgusted by him and his useless antics. A major house cleaning is well overdue at this time of critical need of sales and marketing expertise in a market that does indeed have potential.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Newsroom bosses tend to be among the worst because they are often promoted for all the wrong reasons. I had a few decent ones early in my career when the newsroom was more blue-collar, less corporate. Some even became friends outside the newsroom. But now, at Gannett, it’s pretty difficult for any boss to buck the system or be their own person, therefore, I find most editors to be fairly vanilla and unable to pay attention to all important details, whether those details include reading someone’s body language or formulating a new plan. They just sort of plunge into things, kind of like a young pup diving into a murky pond. I guess it’s fashionable to call that “enthusiasm” these days. But as far as instincts go, I would say most managers are lacking and some are in way over their heads where I work (a mid-size daily). Some of the more experienced editors seemed burned out, too. Probably from being with Gannett for too long. However, they know their stuff and occasionally share it when they are not being beaten down by budget cuts or other silly corporate demands. While family-owned papers had their problems, I think they produced better leaders. And I don’t just mean the tiny little papers. Remember, a lot of metros were once family owned. And competition in multi-paper cities was great for grooming true newsroom leaders with street smarts and wisdom.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    In a perfect world, here’s what I’d see from a perfect EE.

    Vision. I’d be able to see what he views as our goals, and have an idea of how we’d like to get there.

    Leadership. His actions and decisions would be reflective of that vision. It would NOT reflect “do as I say, not as I do.”

    Consistency. Yes, details change. But there should be steady, clear messages from the boss about the important things, like the quantity vs. quality issue. We also shouldn’t be praised for something one day, then criticized for the same thing the next.

    Guidance. In a past life, you were a city editor, too. But if you’re always telling me how to do the job, that stunts my growth. A quick conversation, a gentle hand on the tiller…THOSE kinds of things will help ME make me a better journalist. As opposed to an order-taker, which is what I fear my colleagues are becoming.

    Trust. The room to develop and implement legitimate solutions to challenges that occur at our level of the organization, without needing an extra two levels of approval one day, then be criticized for passing a similar issue up the ladder the next. A boss who tells his staff “come to me with a solution” (and he should), shouldn’t regularly be changing the solution unless there’s a damn good reason. Or his people will stop trying.

    Fairness. Praise and criticism would be in balance. We’d hear about the good things in fairly equal measure to the bad. We’d hear them on a regular basis throughout the year, not just at review time. And standards would be similar for employees at similar positions, no matter what their race or gender.

    The personal touches are nice …the baby pictures, and the popsicles another paper’s former editor used to bring in periodically during the two years his publisher wouldn’t fix the building’s air conditioning. But I’d foresake those in a heartbeat for the qualities listed above.

    What did I leave out?

  14. Anonymous Says:

    @8:08: Are you hiring? I’d take a pay cut …

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Does Gannett give any training to new managers? I recommended this where I work, but my suggestion was disregarded (I don’t know if it was a budgetary/manpower problem or if they just thought it was pointless). I think that, at the very least, new managers need to know how to manage AT GANNETT. What are the standards that this company expects? How are we supposed to react in given situations? But I think that new managers (and obviously plenty of “old” managers) also need training to teach them HOW to be managers. The strengths listed above by 9:41 do not come naturally to every manager, so they need to be taught. Does anybody know if there’s any kind of training at your location for managers?

  16. Anonymous Says:

    From a mid-size newsroom reporter: at my paper, reporters come up with solutions and usually can work with their assigning editor to implement them. Once in a while, ME or EE realize a problem was happening (the one we’ve solved) and issue a kind of edict for how it will be solved which, (a) would have been impracticable and, (b) is so late we’ve moved on.
    In the event that ignoring the edict doesn’t work (half of the time), there is usually a meeting where the editor gets yelled at for either not being nimble (really?) or for being run over by their reporters. The reporters hear nothing from upper mgmt about this.
    Whenever our editors are actually nimble (solving problems, now, with the reporter’s legwork, now), it seems to backfire.
    If Gannett executives were clever, I would think all of this pointed to some kind of conspiracy with the aim of getting middling editors or “team leaders” farther from being able to mentor/ work with/ have a good time with the reporters. As if to say “we MEs and EEs don’t get to have fun with the content providers, and you shouldn’t either, you should also be maligned and disrespected and nervous all the time.”

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I think the training of managers is fairly worthless. Either you have leadership skills or you don’t. Training might make a really bad manager somewhat tolerable, but why would a company want to harbor bad or just tolerable managers anyway?

    Since coming to Gannett in 2000, I haven’t had an outstanding boss yet. My current boss, like others, seems to manage based on what he learns at seminars. It’s a joke. It breeds mediocrity. My boss isn’t a horrific person without some talents, but he just doesn’t have “it”…if you know what I mean. In a competitive business I believe managers have to have that intangible quality.

    The best bosses I ever had were at the AP and while working at a smaller daily years ago. What made them good was that I knew exactly where I stood with them. Expectations were clear. At Gannett, I noticed, a boss could smile at you today and slam you behind your back tomorrow. Is that something they teach in this dismal chain?

    Odds are that some bosses in Gannett would be pretty good if just left alone by the suits. But I suspect something is going on at the top that is stifling these managers. There is some sort of corporate training or mandates that are ruining otherwise good, natural instincts in this bosses.

    The best musicians play by ear. The best managers have a knack for dealing with tasks and people that corporate seems to tarnish some how.

    To answer Jim’s question, my boss, like every boss I’ve had at Gannett, is about a 5 on a scale of 1-10.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    a boss in indy was investigated by eeoc for creating a hostile work environment. she was. she got her wrist slapped and remains in the job.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    I have a mix of both good and bad. None I’d say are amazing, but none atrocious either. (Well the city ed’s asst is pretty useless.) The ME never seems to do much except attend meetings and read blogs. I don’t really know what an ME’s job actually is? Our EE is down-to-earth and doesn’t often send edicts from above (they usually are at least filtered through our direct editor) but the EE has the occasional mean streak you want to avoid. My boss is a good guy and a fair editor. He has a temper and doesn’t take well to bad news, but in general, he lets the reporters work their own beats and stays out of the way. To be honest, without the city editor busting our chops and pushing us, this paper and Web site wouldn’t be half of what it is.

    Another thing I will say, as a reporter I don’t have much interaction with the publisher. But I do have respect for him because he stood behind me on a story when a public official who happened to be a good friend of his called to ask we hold off publishing a story I was close to cracking. Instead, and I heard this from my our EE and later from the official herself, he told her he wouldn’t interfere in the news. This happened only a month or so into my tenure, before he even knew who I was.

    I guess for all the complaining I could do, my bosses could be so much worse.

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