July 23, 2013

7 for 7: The (Bleeping) Boss

[This is day two of 7 Posts for 7 Days. With Detroit making headlines for its bankruptcy, I'm spending the week sharing my Detroit experience. I lived there from mid-1997 to mid-1998.]

As a general rule, I don't bash former employers; it's unprofessional, and why would anyone else want to hire people who speak poorly of their former employers? So what I'm doing in this post is just telling you what my TV news boss was like in Detroit. It's just a sample of his -- ahem -- interesting style of management. To his credit, he definitely helped turn things around, infuse new and good ideas, and boost ratings.

Starting a new job always stinks because of the unknown, especially when you are an introvert. The first few weeks are usually the most painful. But when I arrived at the TV station in Detroit, I figured I was a in a good position because the news director had made a significant investment in me by flying me in for an interview and agreeing to pay me a decent salary and generous relocation expenses. So I'd be safe as long as he stuck around, right?

Not so fast. He disappeared just a few weeks after I started. I was too new to know any exact details (and I'm not a fan of gossip anyway), but it was one of those situations where he was in the office one day and gone the next. Also gone was one of the news director's close associates who was sort of my quasi-supervisor. It's a tough business.

How did I handle it? Well, let's just say it was not terribly comforting to suddenly lose the guy who had just hired me. But this must have been in the works for a while, because a new news director started shortly thereafter. Of course, that left the newsroom with the usual feelings of angst that go along with getting a new boss.

The new guy had a distinctive leadership style. He encouraged all the reporters and producers to read the National Enquirer so we could write in an attention-grabbing style. (I never followed that advice. Shhh - don't tell!) There was a running joke (and I think he was in on the joke) that the nicest thing he would ever say to a producer after a newscast was, "Well, that didn't suck." I think he directed that line to me a couple of times. I appreciated the compliment.

He was kind of a yeller, but most of the time I avoided the line of fire since he was probably less worried about the weekend newscasts I was producing. But there was one day when I was in the control room during my show, and a reporter had just finished a live shot for whatever the lead story was. I guess the news director was watching at home and didn't like the story.

Within just a second or two of the reporter finishing the story, my phone in the control room rang. We didn't have caller ID back then. But I could tell by the sound of the ring that it was from an outside number. Sure enough, it was the news director, and he said something that would probably have made Richard Pryor blush:

"Bleep-bleep it! That story was the worst bleep-bleeping piece of bleep I have ever beeping seen in my entire bleeping life. [Reporter's name] better get [his/her] bleep-bleeping act together before [he/she] does this bleppity-bleeping story again at 10. I'm holding you personally responsible. Bleep!"

I think I just said yessir, and that was the end of the phone call. Fortunately for me and the reporter, some other breaking story happened a few minutes later, so I assigned [him/her] to cover that instead of whatever story the news director hated.

But don't get the impression that my work life was miserable in Detroit. The news news director seemed to appreciate my prior experience, so I ended up getting some additional responsibility. And it was a really good experience to work in a top 10 media  market. I stuck around for one year before I decided to leave for an executive news producer job back in Florida.

Preview: 7 for 7: Red Wings Tragedy will focus on the biggest news story that dominated the headlines for my entire year in Detroit. Yes, the Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups while I was there. But the bigger part the story involved the Red Wings, a limousine driven by an unlicensed pot-smoking driver and a devastating life-threatening crash. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment.

[For others participating in 7 Posts for 7 Days, visit Conversion Diary.]

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