Week in Review – February 9 – 15

It was not a good week for journalism. The week began with speculation about the future of NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, Brian Williams. On Tuesday he was suspended for six months. On Wednesday evening, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a car crash in Manhattan. A journalist who had covered wars for the entirety of his career lost his life close to home. On Thursday evening, after moderating a panel on the documentary ‘Citizen Four’ at the New School, David Carr, The New York Times journalist collapsed on the newsroom floor.

Over the past week, our conversation here has covered topics of authenticity, engagement, hope and loving what you do at work. In reading about Mr. Carr’s career, it occurred to me that his words this week were incredibly relevant to our dialog.

On Sunday, prior to the NBC announcement,  Mr. Carr analyzed Mr. Williams’ and NBC’s dilemma in his column for The New York Times:

“I don’t know if Mr. Williams will lose his job. I don’t think he should — his transgressions were not a fundamental part of his primary responsibilities.

We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it. That’s why, when the forces of man or Mother Nature whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag bearer.

We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”

I don’t think there is a better description of conflicting expectations in the workplace.

After Mr. Carr’s death, social media lit up in response to the loss of a mentor and talented writer. City Paper and it’s staff collected stories  from his colleagues and young journalists recounting their experiences….take a minute to read these familiar names relating their encounters…and remember we learn from the wisdom of others.

Dean Baquet, The New York Times Executive Editor described David Carr as “the finest media reporter of his generation.”

David Carr was authentic, engaged in his work, hopeful and loved what he did.

In his words, quoted in his obituary, “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve,” Mr. Carr wrote at the conclusion of “The Night of the Gun,” “but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”

You Can’t Go Home Again, Brian Williams

A few years ago I received a call asking if I could offer advice to a local news anchor who had just been ‘right sized’ out of his morning slot. He had planned a vacation, but someone had given him the advice to cancel the vacation and immediately begin the job search. I suggested he take the vacation. I have no idea if he took my advice, but a few months later he was once again in the anchor seat for another network.

Losing a job, especially when you are at the top of your career game is a major life event. You need time to step away, reflect on the experience and refocus on what you truly want to do next.

For some it’s an interruption in a routine that serves as a ‘career cleanse’, restoring a sense of self, apart from the former career identity.

This past week we have all watched the career implosion of the leading American network news anchor, Brian Williams. He has been suspended from his role as the face of NBC News for six months.

I suggest Mr. Williams should take the six months, reflect and ask ‘Why would I go back?’

On the positive, there is a substantial salary and a celebrity lifestyle. On the other side of the ledger, he has to objectively evaluate the reality of the workplace at NBC.

The culture of NBC News is still significantly influenced by the former news anchor, Tom Brokaw.  Yesterday Ken Auletta, reported in The New Yorker magazine, “Tom Brokaw played a key role in NBC’s decision last night to suspend the news anchor Brian Williams, according to two people involved.” Later in the article he indicates that Mr. Brokaw had concerns about his replacement at the time of the transition. He thought “Williams was a skilled broadcaster but that he was inclined toward self-aggrandizement.” And from his standpoint, “Williams wondered: If his predecessor had retired, why was Brokaw still in the studio, opining on election nights and introducing specials on “the greatest generation”?”

Here is the lesson for us all. At some point the workplace where we thrived is no longer the best place for us to continue our career. Sometimes we make the decision to leave, sometimes that decision is made for us.

Often the benefits of our position cloud our perception of the workplace reality and we become immune to the changing culture around us. We miss the signals and in doing so, abdicate ownership of our career.

In the reporting of this story over the past week, many younger journalists credit Mr. Williams with mentoring them toward success. In many ways this is a sad story, but it’s also one that gives Mr. Williams a new platform to demonstrate how to take ownership of a career and not look back.