Thoughts of a fuzzy-headed fifty-something

Meranda A. Watling, a 20-something newspaper reporter in Lafayette, Ind., reacts to Allan Mutters’ post last week on the newsroom Brain Drain with her own experiences of being the token “target audience” in a newspaper new product development committee.

If you haven’t already, read Mutter’s post and particularly the comments. And read Watling post and the comments. And read Mindy McAdams’ take, including more comments.

An organizational nerve has definitely been hit.

On the positive site, Watling is a creative young journalist with a position attitude. Just the kind of person newspapers need.

She says some good ideas fermenting in the new product development group are moving forward and some bad ideas got skimmed out.

She sees her organization as being proactive and feels good about that. But she also says in “Letting the young’ns have our say:”

That said, this isn’t a fairy tale I’m living. And for the successes I’ve watched, I’ve also seen and been disappointed. I’ve seen our own best intentions get in the way of what could be really cool.

Watling’s not a whiner. In fact, her experience has likely been better than most who have been through similar experiences. It’s not uncommon for newspapers to invite young staffers to provide ideas only to dismiss those ideas as from the “too young to understand.”

As a fifty-something manager, I’ll admit I may have no clue, but I’m not so sure at all it’s really an age thing. Now that online is actually considered mainstream, a vital part of future viability, and not an ancillary, there’s a full scale battle over old ways  vs. new ways, or maybe it’s better said as new ways of doing the same old things  vs. adopting new ways of doing.

The new ways of doing the same old things may be winning, or at the very least providing enough drag to put both camps into a protracted stalemate in a long snowy winter without supplies.

This may be just a part of the difficult transition of organizations cemented in their ways. It may be the inevitable result of trying to accomplish organizational change by committee: Committees are to get everybody together and homogenize their thinking — Art Linkletter.

We could use a lot less homogenized thinking.

You can see the rift where Watling says she suggested writing a blog and “the response was basically that I have more than enough on my plate already, which to be fair is definitely true. But it begs the question, are the right things on the right plate?

That would not be unique to her newsroom. What should be on the plate is at the heart of the change — or lack thereof.