OK, boomer: Time to think of your Plan B

“Boomers preparing and planning for graceful exits will fare much better than newsroom leaders who don’t have their go-bags ready.”

“When are you boomers finally going to go and get out of our way?”

“I’m never leaving. You’ll have to carry me out of here, feet first!”

This conversation actually happened. It was, frankly, quite a bit saltier than this paraphrasing. A joke among colleagues, but with real emotion behind it. It’s one of the most memorable and refreshingly honest conversations I’ve heard in a newsroom. You may not have heard similar, but I can guarantee frustration is building among your top performers. The perception is that we boomers are moving too slowly, mired in traditional thinking, and stifling the growth of the next generation of leaders.

Not all of us have the luxury to decide to dial back. We’re living longer. We have legitimate financial constraints. The prospect of pivoting and finding our next opportunity is challenging, especially when you’re in your 60s or 70s.

My prediction: 2022 will be an unprecedented year of turnover at the top of the news industry. It is already happening across broad sectors of the economy.

A recent Boston Globe article noted that, over the past five years, the share of Fortune 100 CEOs who are boomers fell from 82% to 67%. The pandemic will only accelerate that trend. Covid is forcing many to reexamine life’s purpose, and boomers are no exception. Especially those who have managed staff through this relentless and exhausting news cycle.

Boomers preparing and planning for graceful exits will fare much better than newsroom leaders who don’t have their go-bags ready. Now is the time to consider the end of your tenure and begin taking affirmative steps toward your future.

Be on the lookout for signs it’s time to go. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s time to think about your Plan B.

  • Were you first to return to the newsroom post-pandemic? And do you not appreciate that many, if not most of your team members prefer hybrid or remote work?
  • Do you find yourself openly complaining about the younger journalists on your team? Have you called them spoiled, entitled, or angry? The problem is probably you, not them.
  • Are your future stars heading for the exits because there’s no opportunity to advance?
  • When you look at your team, does everyone look and act like you?
  • Do you make jokes about your Plan B? Maybe you really do want to spend more time with your family, take a break, or pursue a new passion.

Even if you’re not yet ready to pass the torch to the next generation, it’s time to get your professional affairs in order. You should be deliberate and strategic in planning this new phase of your career. Start by future-proofing your organization:

  • Recruit, hire, and mentor a team to serve a younger, diverse audience whose lived experience is different from yours. It’s foundational to your organizational success to create a culture that is diverse and inclusive.
  • Incentivize, empower, and most importantly, trust your managers to make independent and consequential decisions.
  • Make introductions, share your network, and then get out of the way. Allow your team to forge their own independent relationships.

But, what if you are ready to leave your position but want to stay in journalism? You can. If you have the energy and commitment to share what you’ve learned, there are lots of opportunities to have an impact.

Check out the OpenNews community. OpenNews is where you will find the brightest, most thoughtful, and supportive community in journalism. This year it launched the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Coalition for Anti-Racist, Just, and Equitable Newsrooms. Another great organization that launched this year is the News Product Alliance.

These new organizations are committed to creating safe spaces to have difficult conversations that propel journalism forward. If you are ready to talk about topics like privilege, objectivity, and impact — and are committed to listening, engaging, and evolving — OpenNews and the NPA are for you.

You can also share what you’ve learned with others during this next stage of your career. Be a mentor, a coach, a consultant. Organizations like INN, the Local Media Association, and NABJ are all looking for experienced news leaders to strengthen the foundation of independent, diverse news organizations, nonprofit and for-profit. Approach these opportunities with an open heart. You’ll learn as much from this next generation of leaders as you share from what you’ve learned over your career.

My last piece of advice comes from the most iconic boomer of all, Mick Jagger. We all know the words: Time waits for no one / and it won’t wait for me.

John Davidow is principal at Media Bridge Partners in Boston.

“When are you boomers finally going to go and get out of our way?”

“I’m never leaving. You’ll have to carry me out of here, feet first!”

This conversation actually happened. It was, frankly, quite a bit saltier than this paraphrasing. A joke among colleagues, but with real emotion behind it. It’s one of the most memorable and refreshingly honest conversations I’ve heard in a newsroom. You may not have heard similar, but I can guarantee frustration is building among your top performers. The perception is that we boomers are moving too slowly, mired in traditional thinking, and stifling the growth of the next generation of leaders.

Not all of us have the luxury to decide to dial back. We’re living longer. We have legitimate financial constraints. The prospect of pivoting and finding our next opportunity is challenging, especially when you’re in your 60s or 70s.

My prediction: 2022 will be an unprecedented year of turnover at the top of the news industry. It is already happening across broad sectors of the economy.

A recent Boston Globe article noted that, over the past five years, the share of Fortune 100 CEOs who are boomers fell from 82% to 67%. The pandemic will only accelerate that trend. Covid is forcing many to reexamine life’s purpose, and boomers are no exception. Especially those who have managed staff through this relentless and exhausting news cycle.

Boomers preparing and planning for graceful exits will fare much better than newsroom leaders who don’t have their go-bags ready. Now is the time to consider the end of your tenure and begin taking affirmative steps toward your future.

Be on the lookout for signs it’s time to go. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s time to think about your Plan B.

  • Were you first to return to the newsroom post-pandemic? And do you not appreciate that many, if not most of your team members prefer hybrid or remote work?
  • Do you find yourself openly complaining about the younger journalists on your team? Have you called them spoiled, entitled, or angry? The problem is probably you, not them.
  • Are your future stars heading for the exits because there’s no opportunity to advance?
  • When you look at your team, does everyone look and act like you?
  • Do you make jokes about your Plan B? Maybe you really do want to spend more time with your family, take a break, or pursue a new passion.

Even if you’re not yet ready to pass the torch to the next generation, it’s time to get your professional affairs in order. You should be deliberate and strategic in planning this new phase of your career. Start by future-proofing your organization:

  • Recruit, hire, and mentor a team to serve a younger, diverse audience whose lived experience is different from yours. It’s foundational to your organizational success to create a culture that is diverse and inclusive.
  • Incentivize, empower, and most importantly, trust your managers to make independent and consequential decisions.
  • Make introductions, share your network, and then get out of the way. Allow your team to forge their own independent relationships.

But, what if you are ready to leave your position but want to stay in journalism? You can. If you have the energy and commitment to share what you’ve learned, there are lots of opportunities to have an impact.

Check out the OpenNews community. OpenNews is where you will find the brightest, most thoughtful, and supportive community in journalism. This year it launched the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Coalition for Anti-Racist, Just, and Equitable Newsrooms. Another great organization that launched this year is the News Product Alliance.

These new organizations are committed to creating safe spaces to have difficult conversations that propel journalism forward. If you are ready to talk about topics like privilege, objectivity, and impact — and are committed to listening, engaging, and evolving — OpenNews and the NPA are for you.

You can also share what you’ve learned with others during this next stage of your career. Be a mentor, a coach, a consultant. Organizations like INN, the Local Media Association, and NABJ are all looking for experienced news leaders to strengthen the foundation of independent, diverse news organizations, nonprofit and for-profit. Approach these opportunities with an open heart. You’ll learn as much from this next generation of leaders as you share from what you’ve learned over your career.

My last piece of advice comes from the most iconic boomer of all, Mick Jagger. We all know the words: Time waits for no one / and it won’t wait for me.

John Davidow is principal at Media Bridge Partners in Boston.

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