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Dealing with a disorganized SE

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Smash Williams, Feb 21, 2008.

  1. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    Last fall, our SE went on to a new job. Our corporate said we couldn't hire a new person, so the old ASE was promoted to SE and one of the writers became the new ASE. The new SE is a good editor in terms of finding typos and factual errors, and he's decent at laying out the section. He was a great ASE, a friendly guy who's been at the paper forever and had been ASE for several SEs who moved through the paper.

    But now that he's in charge, we've found out he really struggles of long-term planning and at standing up for his writers. He lives so much in the day-to-day aspect of his job that he somehow can't see beyond things that are happening today or tomorrow. He also struggles with fighting for enough stringer money, space in the section, overtime pay or anything else where he has to go through management.

    For example, he didn't budget the stringer money correctly this month because he doesn't have a calendar that tells him what's coming up. He covered everything early, even some things we could have done rewrites for, and now we can't cover things we really need to get in the paper because we have no writers. He doesn't communicate with our sister paper in the area to coordinate coverage, and he has a very bad habit of not telling us what he wants us to write until the day of. Last week, he told me the day before an off day we needed a story the next day and could I come in to write it? He'd known he wanted the story for a week but didn't tell anyone until the day before.

    Basically, he's an ASE in SE's clothing. He's so caught up in what's happening on today's budget that he doesn't take time to plan the week or month ahead. He won't fill out a calendar, and he relies on other people to tell him what's happening on a week-by-week instead of taking the initiative himself and planning ahead. He also strolls in late, goofs off for a good portion of the day then complains at deadline time when he doesn't have everything done.

    I started off trying to cover for him. I'd push him about getting coverage for big events in the near future that he'd forgotten about and make sure he knew when we'd need stringers. But with so many sports starting up, I don't have time to cover his butt anymore, and frankly I'm a bit tired of it.

    The ASE and other writer on the staff are equally frustrated, but our editor doesn't care as long as we cover the school his kids play at in the playoffs. I suspect I should just let him sink on his own, but at the same time, I hate the idea of putting out an inferior section.

    So those of you who have been there, how do you deal with a generally nice guy who should never have been promoted to his position? Do you cover for him, or do you let him dig his own grave so that someone finally comes in and makes him change?
  2. dragonfly

    dragonfly Member

    Wow, that sucks. I've had this happen at various stops along the way. The best advice is to handle what you need to handle and let him screw up. YOu'll go crazy trying to cover him all the time. Ideally, having others stop enabling him would lead to him shaping up: either because someone else makes him or he realizes it on his own. But sadly, it probably won't.

    i think the best way to handle it is to send weekly emails to this guy, outlining your schedule and what you'll be doing. You can also put in some notes about other events going on and suggest ideas/coverage. That's not too pushy, but hopefully it'd help make your life a little easier.
  3. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    If you like the guy, help him organize. Put together budgets and keep him abreast of upcoming events. He will be grateful and will be a future asset in your own advancement in the biz, and it'll give you a sense of ownership in the department. If you don't, let him sink. Just take care of your own bailiwick. Sounds simple to me.
  4. Position yourself as the guy who takes care of some of the longer-range vision of the section, without, of course, undermining your boss. My experience has been that he'll appreciate you helping out in that way.

    Try to have some empathy. A lot of times, the burden of trying to put out a section every day is enough to exhaust an SE, especially when you add in calls from disgruntled readers he has to handle, managerial bullshit from above that he's always having to tend to, trying to stretch his staff as far as he can, plus playing staff psychologist to the usual mixture of ink-stained curmudgeons, up-and-coming gunner types and clock watchers.

    It becomes all these guys can do to put the section out every day, let alone trying to formulate a real vision for it in the long-term. You think we writers get burned out and don't feel the job ends up being what we envisioned? Imagine how editors feel when they basically have to become glorified slot guys because they are so stretched thin.

    I can certainly understand your frustration. I've been there. But look at it as an opportunity to become the enterprise/visionary guy for the department.
  5. Billy Monday

    Billy Monday Member

    "Disorganized SE" is sort of like saying "a tall basketball player."
    Aren't they all?
  6. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

  7. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Only the good ones.
  8. Fourth and 8

    Fourth and 8 Member

    Be careful what you wish for. You lose this guy, they will freeze the position and you'll be doing your job and his.
  9. Smash Williams

    Smash Williams Well-Known Member

    That is a quality point>

    Most of my frustration is that he's just not getting better. He's been in his position for about six months now, and it's like he's only been there for a week. In fact, he's probably worse right now because there are so many more things going on that require more planning (i.e., more sports to cover).

    I'll keep helping him out. And that's a good suggestion about taking the long-term/enterprise stuff into my own hands. He's just started leaning on my help as a crutch instead of learning how to do the work.

    I'm also spoiled because our last SE was so good at the long-term part of his job. But hey, he's not coming back, so we have to do the best with what we've got.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    The greatest gift to a struggling sports editor is a reporter who doesn't need much managing. Or so I have heard.
  11. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    Sometimes it takes a while to learn what's really required of a new position, but six months should be enough. Kindly let him know that it would really help if things were planned more in advance.
  12. accguy

    accguy Member


    Take it as an opportunity. You said that he sometimes doesn't give you assignments until the day before. I would take that as an opportunity to control more of your own destiny. In other words, pitch to him what you want to do. If he's really disorganized, he'll probably say 'sure, go ahead, sounds great.'

    Then when somebody has to do some crap story, he'll know you're working on something else and someone else may get stuck with it.

    I have found that the more you come up with ideas and keep the editors at bay, the better off your life is going to be. I used to report to an ASE who had little interest in the job. I would email him on Sunday night (so he'd have it first thing Monday morning) what was essentially my budgets for the upcoming week and for any other longer things I was planning. In doing that, I covered a lot less B.S. than some other folks.
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