Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mastering Leadership: A Conversation with Business Day's Steve Matthewson

For those involved in the Journalism Leaders Programme, there has been much to celebrate in 2012.

Since the Leaders programme was established in 2006, we've engaged with hundreds of editors and senior journalists from many of the UK's leading media houses, including Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group and Cumbrian Newspapers, as well as others around the world through a wide variety of activities - from non-academic workshops, conferences, seminars and training courses, to postgraduate certificates and diplomas.

But this December five talented editors from South Africa, Bulgaria and the UK became the first to earn the Master of Arts in Journalism Leadership award from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, home the UK's oldest journalism programme.

Steve Matthewson
Paddi Clay, Dilyan DamyanovAlison Gow, Laurice Taitz-Buntman and Steve Matthewson  (left) were the first ones to have pressed through to the end.

François Nel, the programme's founding director, wanted to find out about just why they invested in the experience. Here's what Steve Matthewson, Managing Editor: News, BDlive and Business Day in South Africa, had to say:

Traditionally, journalists have moved up the career ladder by learning all they can from the person on the rung above. Why did you choose to participate in the Journalism Leaders Programme?

Very simply, the sea changes that have occurred (are still occurring) in the traditional media space mean that conventional wisdom and institutional experience within media companies is less useful than it might have been 10, 20 years ago. There may be routines, approaches or philosophies that older, more experienced leaders may be able to share but because the business of media is changing so quickly and the role of professional journalists in society is shifting, such experience appears to be less relevant. In fact, to some extent, there are fewer "greybeards" around anyway so more of the learning would have to come from outside the newsroom.

Work-based experience seems to be about continuity; reproducing, perhaps more efficiently or in one's own style, the same products for which the previous generation was responsible.
The Journalism Leaders Programme forced me to think critically about the business itself on a much more existential level (that is, why do we do, what we do, at all).

Another key thing is that much journalism education is self-reinforcing whereas this programme consistently forced participants to look completely outside the industry for solutions and ideas.

Balancing the demands of editing a newspaper with the academic activities - residential weeks in Preston and applied projects - could not have been easy. What kept you going?

It was extremely demanding. However, the fact that the programme was a blend of practical application and high-level, theoretical thinking about leadership and strategy, meant I was able to feed back much of what I learnt directly back into my work during and after every module. That gave me personal satisfaction and also made up for the absence from work. My employer gave me all the backing I needed as well as time to complete my studies. Also, the support I received from my fellow JLP students throughout the programme and the informal support network we created was really helpful in completing the course.

The Journalism Leaders Programme offers non-academic routes for those who just want to attend residential sessions, as well as an academic route with exit points at postgraduate certificate, post graduate diploma and Master of Arts levels. Why did you keep going to the end – including writing a research dissertation?

On one level, it was the ambition to complete a proper post-graduate qualification which would have serious long-term value to my CV. I've done a number of short courses in leadership, newsroom management as well stated-based unit standards in assessment etc and, while empowering, these never had the same gravitas as a proper academic course.

On another level, I just enjoyed each module so much so having completed three I really wanted to do the next three because they covered other areas in which I was interested in. And having finished the modules, it just made sense to do the dissertation. The dissertation was the hardest bit though.

How did your company benefit from your participation?

Since I became a more confident, mature and thoughtful leader, Avusa (now Times Media) were able to - and did - promote me several times during the course of the programme. I took on much greater responsibility not just in terms of the number of people reporting to me or the size of the budget which I worked with, but I now work much more across traditional boundaries within the organisation and I am not just limited to an editorial role. I think I (and other editorial leaders) are of neccessity having to take on those roles anyway, but my participation in the JLP prepared me better for this new kind of leadership role. In addition, I would say the JLP was fairly cutting edge in exposing participants to key trends in the industry,  new technologies and the challenges of managing creative individuals in changing environments so having someone like me to launch and run new "stuff" I think has helped the organisation move forward.

How would you summarise your JLP experience?

Challenging, academically rigorous, well-structured, always current and absolutely relevant to my career.

  • Earlier we also posted conversations with  Alison Gow , editor of the Daily Post in Wales, and Dilyan Damyanov,  Editorial Director of Information Services at AII Data Processing in Sofia. We plan to post conversations withthe other graduates over the coming weeks. 
  • The first and only programme of its kind in the UK, the Journalism Leaders Programme continues to work with leading publishers from around the world, such as News International, to provide custom courses that help equip exceptional talent for leadership. For more information, contact François  Nel at FPNel @ .

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