We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

“How often do you ask your colleague how they’re feeling, and are you prepared for the answer?”

I heard this recently and can’t get it out of my head: “Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”

It’s from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who wrote My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.

It’s been stuck in my head because as someone who delivers diversity, equity, and inclusion training to news organizations and has been involved in a range of newsroom diversity initiatives, I think this is a missing piece of the puzzle.

Creating diverse, inclusive, welcoming workplaces is not about numbers; it’s about emotions. Namely: How we handle our own.

We have plenty of proof that it’s clearly not enough to just hire for diversity. Despite decades of talk and stop-and-go committees and studies, thousands of journalists say their newsrooms don’t have enough diversity in race and ethnicity. Newsrooms are quite resistant to even reporting their demographics, as the News Leaders Association encountered earlier this year.

Because once you hire that person for their perspectives and experiences, do you know how their ideas and authenticity will be received, emotionally?

For instance:

  • Can someone cry in front of their colleagues without worrying about being judged or dismissed?
  • Can someone raise their voice without someone else taking it personally?
  • Can a non-manager ask a question of management without fear of repercussions?

If the answer to any of the above is no, know that it is not about your new employee, but about a culture that diminishes feelings.

The key is to pause and examine that defensive reaction for what that feeling really is, instead of acting on it. We won’t succeed every time, but if we don’t even try, we are creating a toxic workplace.

According to an MIT Sloan Management Review study released this year, the top five toxic workplace traits are: “noninclusive,” “disrespectful,” “unethical,” “cutthroat,” and “abusive.”

When I see those words, I see a culture that has no empathy for the human experience.

While I am thankful I worked with supportive colleagues in non-toxic newsrooms, I needed more guidance around handling emotions and people’s reactions to them — I, who prided herself in being a not-too-emotional person.

I’ve had colleagues report other colleagues for being too emotional in the newsroom. I’ve managed reporters who told me they weren’t comfortable talking to previous bosses about their mental wellness. I’ve witnessed microaggressions and failed to know how to handle it well.

And this is not healthy — for anyone.

It contributes to a psychologically unsafe workplace. And good luck trying to retain a new employee in such a culture.

To be able to create the places of belonging I hear so many newsrooms striving for, we need to be there for one another emotionally. Part of being human is to feel, so asking people to be authentic means asking them to be emotional.

To create truly inclusive workplaces means you have to be able to confront your own reactions to emotions.

Because how can you navigate people through burnout, stress, covering trauma, systemic racism, and difficult change without reflecting on your emotional response?

Why does seeing someone cry make you uncomfortable? How often do you ask your colleague how they’re feeling, and are you prepared for the answer? Can you hold space for someone’s anger at work in a way that preserves safety for yourself and others?

This is why I predict in 2023, DEI training for newsrooms will also include reflections on our emotional agility. I believe newsrooms who succeed in hiring and retaining a diverse staff will also be places where people can be their emotional selves without fear.

And we need it now more than ever as we’re confronting a collision of challenges: working and living through a pandemic, waves of layoffs and cutbacks, a vein of public distrust of the media, a steady stream of coverage about suffering, pain and loss.

As psychologist Susan David notes in Brené Brown’s latest book Atlas of the Heart, emotions “can be beacons, not barriers, helping us identify what we most care about and motivating us to make positive changes.”

All the DEI mission statements and training launched in the past few years will not lead to positive changes unless we also recognize and hold space for the feelings within us. It requires us to admit that something makes us sad, scared, overwhelmed, or ashamed. And it is in working through these emotions that we can create truly inclusive places.

Kathy Lu is an adjunct at The Poynter Institute and founder of Audiencibility, a media consulting company.

I heard this recently and can’t get it out of my head: “Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.”

It’s from Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who wrote My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.

It’s been stuck in my head because as someone who delivers diversity, equity, and inclusion training to news organizations and has been involved in a range of newsroom diversity initiatives, I think this is a missing piece of the puzzle.

Creating diverse, inclusive, welcoming workplaces is not about numbers; it’s about emotions. Namely: How we handle our own.

We have plenty of proof that it’s clearly not enough to just hire for diversity. Despite decades of talk and stop-and-go committees and studies, thousands of journalists say their newsrooms don’t have enough diversity in race and ethnicity. Newsrooms are quite resistant to even reporting their demographics, as the News Leaders Association encountered earlier this year.

Because once you hire that person for their perspectives and experiences, do you know how their ideas and authenticity will be received, emotionally?

For instance:

  • Can someone cry in front of their colleagues without worrying about being judged or dismissed?
  • Can someone raise their voice without someone else taking it personally?
  • Can a non-manager ask a question of management without fear of repercussions?

If the answer to any of the above is no, know that it is not about your new employee, but about a culture that diminishes feelings.

The key is to pause and examine that defensive reaction for what that feeling really is, instead of acting on it. We won’t succeed every time, but if we don’t even try, we are creating a toxic workplace.

According to an MIT Sloan Management Review study released this year, the top five toxic workplace traits are: “noninclusive,” “disrespectful,” “unethical,” “cutthroat,” and “abusive.”

When I see those words, I see a culture that has no empathy for the human experience.

While I am thankful I worked with supportive colleagues in non-toxic newsrooms, I needed more guidance around handling emotions and people’s reactions to them — I, who prided herself in being a not-too-emotional person.

I’ve had colleagues report other colleagues for being too emotional in the newsroom. I’ve managed reporters who told me they weren’t comfortable talking to previous bosses about their mental wellness. I’ve witnessed microaggressions and failed to know how to handle it well.

And this is not healthy — for anyone.

It contributes to a psychologically unsafe workplace. And good luck trying to retain a new employee in such a culture.

To be able to create the places of belonging I hear so many newsrooms striving for, we need to be there for one another emotionally. Part of being human is to feel, so asking people to be authentic means asking them to be emotional.

To create truly inclusive workplaces means you have to be able to confront your own reactions to emotions.

Because how can you navigate people through burnout, stress, covering trauma, systemic racism, and difficult change without reflecting on your emotional response?

Why does seeing someone cry make you uncomfortable? How often do you ask your colleague how they’re feeling, and are you prepared for the answer? Can you hold space for someone’s anger at work in a way that preserves safety for yourself and others?

This is why I predict in 2023, DEI training for newsrooms will also include reflections on our emotional agility. I believe newsrooms who succeed in hiring and retaining a diverse staff will also be places where people can be their emotional selves without fear.

And we need it now more than ever as we’re confronting a collision of challenges: working and living through a pandemic, waves of layoffs and cutbacks, a vein of public distrust of the media, a steady stream of coverage about suffering, pain and loss.

As psychologist Susan David notes in Brené Brown’s latest book Atlas of the Heart, emotions “can be beacons, not barriers, helping us identify what we most care about and motivating us to make positive changes.”

All the DEI mission statements and training launched in the past few years will not lead to positive changes unless we also recognize and hold space for the feelings within us. It requires us to admit that something makes us sad, scared, overwhelmed, or ashamed. And it is in working through these emotions that we can create truly inclusive places.

Kathy Lu is an adjunct at The Poynter Institute and founder of Audiencibility, a media consulting company.

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

AX Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome