To be young, gifted, and non-white
March 17, 2016 10:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm an introvert working in a newsroom. I'm in a position that manages people, workflow, and the news. The Big Boss started out a Nice Guy but is now The Big Bad. I enjoy the work. I do not enjoy getting treated like shit. How do I keep my sanity?

For the most part, all of this is exciting to me. I love how the day starts, the tension and pressure, the busyness of a newsroom, all that hoopla. Sometimes the team I handle tend to commit mistakes because of two things: being overwhelmed, or laziness. No major fuckups though. It's a bit difficult doing extroverted things and activities, but I can roll with it. I can even forgive being underpaid, which I am.

The one thing that's made me question if I still want to be in this job is my boss. He was really an ace person when I first met him, and the first few months I even thought him to be generous, level-headed, full of ambition, and is someone who would take us (the whole team) places. But as the company grew, he started morphing into a person I don't really like. Or maybe - this was him the whole time, I just haven't seen it. Maybe it's got nothing to do with the success of our team, but by the length of time you have known him?

There are a lot of us in the newsroom who are non-white, myself included, who have stellar backgrounds and education. And yet he storms through everything we write and tells us how many stupid mistakes we make in terms of grammar. When someone tries to reason with him (most of what he points out as wrong are merely stylistic choices in journalism), he blows a gasket and often says that we're ruining our reputation. He feels he has more authority, that he knows better, because he's white and his native language is English. Um. Yeah.

Then there are the offhand comments that come off as racist, sexist, and elitist. Most of the time nobody reacts to it anymore, like we choose to collectively ignore it, but on really bad days it can get under your skin, and you start questioning yourself, why am I doing this again?

TL;DR — I want to keep this job, because I truly like it. I haven't gotten a job like this in a long time, and I want to be here awhile. But sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and the way I'm being treated, and I feel like I could do better.

• Immigrants, how do you deal with a white boss?
• Women, how do you deal with a boss that feels you don't know anything about a particular topic, because you have a vagina?
• Young people, how do you deal with a boss who patronises you?

How do I deal with a boss who believes
• He knows more about the English language because he's born in the West
• He knows more about the news because he owns the newsroom
• His western master's degree is better than my non-western journalism background

I'm simply tired of doing all the emotional labour. How do I rise above all this?
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
• Women, how do you deal with a boss that feels you don't know anything about a particular topic, because you have a vagina?

I get a new job.
posted by Toddles at 10:40 PM on March 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

Remind yourself that you need a paycheck in order to live and jobs in general are few and far between and you work in media and that's even worse for job hunting. Remind yourself of this a lot every time he says something shitty.

You can also look for other jobs, and should, but it might take a damn long while to find something else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:49 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just work really hard. Bust your ass working hard AND looking for a new job, ideally one that pays more, doing that same work you enjoy and are good at.

Every time this asshole runs his mouth or says some offensive bullshit, think to yourself: "I am on my way to bigger and better things. I am going to leave this workplace and this moron in the dust. I am good at my work and I am smart enough to know that he's a racist blowhard."

Also find someone of your background to vent to about the microaggressions and overt bullshit. This will help you to not lose your mind between now and when you move on to a better job.

But yeah, you definitely have to move on to a better job.
posted by zdravo at 11:04 PM on March 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is what newsrooms are like. It has nothing to do with your vagina or skin color necessarily, and I'm sorry you are focusing on that.

Professions with tight deadlines and lots of drama attract adrenaline junkies, who are not the most emotionally stable bunch of folks. There is a hazing process in pressure-cooker type workplaces - either you can develop a thick skin and adapt or change your job. You will drive yourself into mental illness if you try to stick it out if this is not for you (read: I think you have to be already emotionally damaged or some sort of shoalin master to be able to hack it.)

It's competitive, conniving, and back-stabby. Never write or say anything you would not want your boss to hear. Your coworkers are not your friends and at least one of them (if not all) will throw you under a bus to get ahead. Do not complain or talk shit about your boss with anyone associated with work. Ever.

I'm not defending this culture in any way, shape, or form. Being upset about this is like being upset that water is wet. You can tap out with pride and your head held high at any moment because there's nothing wrong with having standards and boundaries, or especially self-respect.
posted by jbenben at 11:25 PM on March 17, 2016 [28 favorites]

I think you're underrating the impact your introversion has on this situation as well. If you're harder to like, you're easier to be angry at.
posted by ryanbryan at 11:30 PM on March 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

A couple of things I'd take a good look at:
- Issues around grammar and style should be handled by the house style guide. Otherwise, editor's call. Arguing over style with my editor would have had me fired on the spot.

- Mistakes are being made and attributed to laziness? That's not okay. I wouldn't keep anyone who made careless mistakes on my team.

This isn't to say that your other points aren't worth addressing, but damn, this sounds like a badly-run newsroom, and I would be either working hard to redress this or looking for a new job.
posted by third word on a random page at 12:38 AM on March 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

He feels he has more authority, that he knows better, because he's white and his native language is English. Um. Yeah.

He *does* have more authority than you. Not because he's white or because his native language is English, but because he's your boss.

As my manager, who is a very wise person, once told me -- "being in a management role means that the organization trusts you to make the rules for your team."

You can either do things your boss's way, try to find a way to get transferred to another manager, or leave the company. Trying to insist that you are right and your boss is wrong, especially when it comes to stuff like stylistic matters, is going to be a recipe for misery and it's not a fight that you can win, unless he is truly incompetent, or so overtly racist or sexist that his actions amount to unlawful discrimination.
posted by phoenixy at 1:09 AM on March 18, 2016 [18 favorites]

I'm sorry you're experiencing this. I agree with previous posters that the best long-term solution would be to find another job. In the interim I think you do have to accept that as the boss he does get final say on subjective/style choices (no matter how idiotically he justifies those choices) and try to let it go. Unless there is a really robust and supportive HR process any calling out of his racist or sexist tendancies is unlikely to be productive.

Keeping mistakes from your team to a minimum may help your credibility (although if he's really a complete racist & sexist you're never likely win him over or convince him of your real skill levels).

This is what newsrooms are like. It has nothing to do with your vagina or skin color necessarily, and I'm sorry you are focusing on that.

It seems entirely feasible to me that the OP's boss has specifically cited his having English as a first language to support an assertion that he's right about grammar etc. Even if he hasn't come out and directly said so it may be apparent from the way he treats other white/Western background people in comparison to non-white staff members.
posted by *becca* at 3:20 AM on March 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

I believe you that there are racism and other -isms at play.

Bear with me a bit.

It is kind of the end days of certain forms of the business of journalism. Media has mostly always been white guys screaming at everyone else, to some degree or another. As the print advertising model fades and digital fails to really, really make enough money, there's increased pressure on everyone. In that pressure cooker my experience up until last year when I got out, sort of, there is a rapid reversion to type. I was in a meeting a few years ago where a very senior person threatened, in front of a large group of staff, to hunt down and fire - his words - anyone who was not committed to absolute success through 80 hour workweeks. He also criticized high-ranking career pros, women, for their dress, in front of their staff.

This is not okay, but there are so. many. journalists. looking for jobs that will let them cover decent stories decently some of the time that it doesn't matter. People are lining up for those jobs. There is no incentive for change, not just because of the supply of people, but because everyone is so overloaded that growing as a human being is somewhere on the priority list after "update the style guide" and "get more sleep." And it sucks.

And that's the gentle view. Some people would just say the only individuals winning the media rat race right now are...rats.

So what can you do?

1. I agree 100% that yelling about the style of a piece is in editorial, as long as the yelling is about the piece and not the person. Learning to take feedback is a killer career skill. I made many mistakes running an editorial team but one thing I did manage to do was create an atmosphere where that kind of editing was low-drama. At the end of the day, the top dog is responsible for the overall voice of the publication, and the most professional thing to do is let that go with grace and perspective. Then the two times a year it really counts, when you do push back, it stands out.

2. Laziness is not ok. Managing burnout is super hard but the answer is not to be ok with it. Is the laziness about facts? Follow-through? If so, fix that. If it's a stereotype that isn't actually happening, or is really about people being too snowed under to be able to accurately source their work or something, set up more checks along the way. Which stories need which degree of care?

3. Plan your exit. There are teams that don't work this way even if it is the norm. Network and network.

4. If there is a moment where you can say something like "what makes you say that?" about a clearly racist remark, do it. But it is not an additional duty.

I do believe that new models will rise where there is room again for better workplaces, and there are pockets...publicly owned media, some cool podcast companies, etc. get your skills to where you can join those.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:06 AM on March 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

Long-term, I would work on getting out of there. There are other opportunities out there where being a young non-western woman will be valued, not just tolerated. And yelling is just unprofessional. That said, I wouldn't argue about minor differences in style or grammar. In all jobs, it's important to pick your battles. I wouldn't quit my job over a serial comma.

Back in the day, I had been working with a boss I liked for three years when he hired three new male colleagues at my same level who had just graduated law school and policy school. Within a year, he had promoted one of them above me. At my annual review, I asked my supervisor what I needed to do to earn a promotion and he said he didn't know but would find out. I worked hard to prove myself and at my mid-year review, asked my supervisor again if he knew what I needed to do to earn a promotion and he said he still didn't know. So I focused on applying for new gigs and got one with a significant salary and title bump. A month after I left, the other two guys were promoted. It still stings a little that my old boss didn't value my work as highly as others but I found another employer who did value my work more and that was a big confidence boost. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 7:33 AM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Get a new job. Over the long term, the current job will just wear you down.
posted by Flood at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2016

I’m in architecture, not journalism, but I’d imagine there are some similarities in that there are stylistic choices to be made and it’s a pretty hierarchical filed. The thing is, points of style are ultimately your boss’s call, and if he’s continually getting push-back I kind of don’t blame him for blowing a gasket. It doesn’t really matter if your team is not wrong. If the guy in charge has a preferred way of doing things, it’s kind of your job to make sure that’s how your team does things. The way you say that your boss “feels he has more authority,” makes me think that it might be pretty frustrating to be your manager. I’m not discounting the sexism and racism. It’s out there in my field, too, for sure. But it will make your days easier in general if you start acting like your boss is the coach of your team, rather than the opposition.
posted by Kriesa at 8:36 AM on March 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

But as the company grew, he started morphing into a person I don't really like. Or maybe - this was him the whole time, I just haven't seen it. Maybe it's got nothing to do with the success of our team, but by the length of time you have known him?

Yes, yes, and yes.

This sounds to me like an adrenaline junkie and control freak who is in over his head and realizes it (even if just semi-consciously.) It likely has a lot to do with the fact that being a good boss or manager is really a different skill set than the "practical" elements of the job - he might be an excellent journalist, but that doesn't translate to being good at managing journalists. He was cool when the company was small, the stakes were low, and he could have his hand in everything without being pushy. Now the pressure is on (both internal and external), he can't keep an eye on every single thing, and he's freaking out.

And when he freaks out all the nasty race and gender shit that he picked up from growing up white and male comes bubbling up. You probably would have seen this eventually, it just so happens that with this guy it's all coming at once. In a different situation you might have seen a growing trickle, not the flood. Which is no excuse for his behavior, but I don't think it's likely you'll get him to change much, at least not before you yourself burn out.

Nthing look for another job pronto - in the meantime try to stay off his radar as much as possible, pick your battles (as in, start working in his "house style" in grammar and writing), get your team to stop screwing up due to laziness.

I want to keep this job, because I truly like it. I haven't gotten a job like this in a long time, and I want to be here awhile. But sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and the way I'm being treated, and I feel like I could do better.

Read Issendai's Guide to Sick Systems and see how well it resonates with you. One way people wind up staying in sick systems is they get seduced and rewarded by the elements of the job they like and discount or ignore the toxic elements. Even though you enjoy journalism and think the organization is doing good work, ask yourself whether that really outweighs the negatives of working under a toxic boss.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:45 AM on March 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

He sounds like an ass and if possible you should move to another position, but telling you how to write is literally part of his job. Celebrity columnists get to dictate their own writing style, everyone else writes how the organization tells them to.

Is there a written style manual? Adhere to it. If there isn't one, ask that one be created.
posted by Candleman at 8:52 AM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hi! I was you from about 2007 to 2010. When I was a naive baby reporter I really liked our editor in chief. But as the years passed it became increasingly obvious how awful of a person he was: patronizing, sexist, casually racist and unethical in ways I shouldn't get into details about in a public forum. (And he had weird unwritten style rules that were really inconsistently enforced but that he would get really aggro about if you unknowingly broke.)

He would regularly sneak up on us and suddenly interrupt our work by sitting on our desks and interrogating us about our projects while violating personal space.

The entire newsroom despised him and it led to this toxic work environment that was just exhausting to spend 8+ hours a day in -- you get to the point where your coworkers don't even like each other that much because you're marinating in so much resentment.

My life now is dramatically better -- but it's because I got a new job working at a library where I can quietly/introvertedly do my work in my own little cubby and have a boss who respects me as a person.

Also: If you do leave this job (and I hope you do), be prepared for being confused and bewildered the first time your new boss treats you like a human being with feelings. It's really hard to mentally shift away from letting yourself be treated like crap.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I work in journalism with many people around the world whose first language is *not* English. We use a style guide to ensure our stories conform to a certain style. Does your organization have this?

>>>When someone tries to reason with him (most of what he points out as wrong are merely stylistic choices in journalism), he blows a gasket....

While your editor's approach to addressing the issue may be unprofessional, the fact of the matter is that every single news organization has a "house style." It may be AP Style, or Chicago Style, or whatever, but there is a style that MUST be conformed to.

As an organization you have to figure this out. It is your editor's job to enforce this style.

It seems like he is unsuccessful at doing so.

The org I work for is very "flat"; we have gender parity, very little hierarchy, and our mission is to report on what the Global South (ie, not white males in Europe or North America) is saying.

But we have some very firm style guidelines that we must all follow. It's developed by consensus and as a community we talk a lot about it.

However conforming to style is a must for any professional journalist. It's part of the culture of journalism. It makes us professionals.
posted by My Dad at 11:47 AM on March 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

It may help to think of this job not as your permanent job. Rather it was the first job that hired you in part because you were willing to settle for low pay and in part because there was an opening from the previous person who didn't work well with your boss. The key is to roll with the punches and do good work so you can market yourself to other, better employers in your field a few years down the line. But that means you have to do good work and develop your skills (including how to deal with assholes) NOW so you can get out later.
posted by deanc at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2016

I had a boss I felt was sexist and didn't give me enough credit, not just because I was female but also because I was young. I was filled with dread about going to work and I even cried at the thought of it sometimes. I was actually looking for jobs and then, thank god, I was laid off. It was the best thing career-wise to ever happen to me.

You can't fix this. The single most important factor in liking a job, in my experience, is who you work with. This guy is your boss and either perceived or real, he makes you feel disrespected and belittled. You can't change who he is and any efforts to get him to change how he views you will probably only reinforce the line in the sand. You just need to get a new boss, and that probably means getting a new job.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:09 PM on March 18, 2016

I never had a news editor who was in the least bit likeable while they were doing the job. People who were nice, laid-back colleagues would get promoted to the position and we'd all be excited that we were finally going to have someone sane and pleasant in the job. Within a week they'd have morphed into the same hypercritical, overdemanding, breathtakingly curt personality they'd just replaced. It's a pressured job with limited control over the stressors facing you, and shouting at your team is one of the easiest ways to let off steam. This has been the case in most newsrooms I've worked in, so a lot of it definitely goes with the territory. (Admittedly, in these cases it wasn't noticeably racist or sexist - they were incredibly fair-handed in their excessive rudeness).

I actually found that, because they were so blunt, they also responded well to bluntness. I would occasionally send back "Wind your neck in, mate" emails when they were being particularly unreasonable. I realise YMMVConsiderably and this could go terribly wrong, but just putting it out there.
posted by penguin pie at 1:43 PM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also had the same thought — there are lots of different personality types out there and we are not always going to get along with everyone.

As an introvert sometimes you have to figure out how to tactfully push back and assert yourself. That's called growth.

Of course, there are times when pushing back may result in you yourself getting pushed out the door: if the boss is a true asshole, if you are dealing with racism and sexism, if you are wrong about your perceptions.
posted by My Dad at 4:14 PM on March 18, 2016

From the OP:
To answer a few points:

- Yes, of course we have a style guide, and we follow it strictly. The 'mistakes' he often points out are not justified as something that violates the style guide, but more of 'my friend who is a CEO pointed out this mistake to me' etc. Bottomline is, he always pits a 'professional' whose opinion he feels is important against me and my team. He owns the newsroom, but I am, shall we say, in the managing editor/EP role. I do respect his authority, but shouldn't my experience and position count, too? After all, he put me here? It just feels like I am doing my job like he told me to but he contradicts it every time, too.

- By 'laziness' I meant only giving 100% instead of 200%. And by 'mistake' I meant things not done right away because we're also human and we need to sleep. A lot of people on my team work regular hours and have normal lives, save for a few of us who have more responsibilities. I don't think it's fair to ask them to work the same hours as me (we don't get paid for overtime), but my boss thinks we should be living and breathing the newsroom.

- I do agree that editorial issues are part of the everyday, it shouldn't have to be a dramatic incident every time, and it's all part of a day's work. We have never reported wrong facts, it's more of a % vs percent kind of situation most of the time. But my boss makes it so like everything is A Big Deal. I don't want to make my team feel like shit just because he's making me feel like shit

- Re: sexism/racism. Some examples: "bad english, he must be Pakistani" or "I got this feedback from a honcho at a big bank who happens to be a former professor in English" or "no need to loop you in since guys know more about tech"
posted by taz (staff) at 5:47 AM on March 19, 2016

"He owns the newsroom, but I am, shall we say, in the managing editor/EP role. I do respect his authority, but shouldn't my experience and position count, too? "

That's really up to him. Publishers can respect the staff they hire as part of a professional news enterprise, or they can run them as personal vanity projects where they meddle in everything. Seems clear that you're a minion on a vanity project.

I'm not totally clear why you're fighting with him about stylistic choices rather than just making the changes. He's pissed you didn't read his mind for his arbitrary style decisions, and he's only going to get more pissed when you argue about it. He's the ultimate arbiter, so why argue for some Platonic style ideal when even if you're right, he's going to be angry and make you change it? Just note his preferences in your style guide along with the date he told you to make the change. If you end up with % flipping to "percent" a dozen times a year, at least you'll be able to show him, well, here are all the times you told us to change it. Or, last Tuesday you said %, I just want to confirm you're changing that going forward?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:02 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

As someone who's worked for several businesses small enough where I'm directly supervised by an owner/original partner your update is ringing so many bells. The arbitrary and capricious changes, the annoyance that you can't read his mind, the need to find something to correct in almost everything you do, blowing "mistakes" out of proportion, the belief that everyone should be devoting 200% to the business regardless of pay or job title & level of official responsibility - these are all things I've encountered before (and, yes, often all at the same time) in jobs where a single person or very small team starts a business, and then once it expands to the point where they can't essentially do everything themselves, or even keep track of every little thing, they can't handle it.

Somewhere along the line (playing Internet Armchair Psychologist, probably way back in his childhood), dude got the idea stuck in his head that supervising/bossing = "fix mistakes." Plus he's now deeply deeply unsettled because he literally can't do everything himself the way he used to, so it's like he's got a little voice in his head saying, "You have to keep your hand in the game! Nobody can do the job the way you can!" So he's got constant internal pressure to say something about everything you do, and because he thinks the job of a boss is to fix mistakes, that something will be a criticism. Referencing external "experts" is just a denial mechanism - it's not him insisting you change things, oh no, it's someone else, he's just passing the message along. (Of course he's really not "just" passing anything along, but to acknowledge that would require acknowledging his own fear and uncertainty, which people tend not to do.)

He probably literally will not remember that last Tuesday he told you to use "%" when today he's insisting that "percent" is proper. He's only saying these things to scratch a mental itch ("Must supervise! Must fix mistakes! *Brain frantically skitters around looking for something to "fix", latches on "%"* Aha! I talked to this guy last month who said he thinks "percent" looks better! FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!!!!!!!"), and once that itch is scratched it's forgotten.

And THEN you've got the added double/triple/quadruple whammy where you're in a fast-paced high-pressure environment (which will ramp up the drama and knee-jerk reactions) plus his sexism plus his racism. I honestly don't see this changing without therapy for him and/or the business grows to the point where there's an HR department or people above him (like a board of directors) who are willing and able to rein him in.

The BEST way to survive this kind of boss is "don't." Move on. I have worked for more than one person like this, and, just to emphasize how much this behavior can be unconscious or how little self-awareness people like this can have, once I told them I was moving on to another job with another company, they were literally astounded - "Wait, WHAT? You're LEAVING??!!!?? You're my best employee!! This place won't work right without you!! I RELY on you to keep this place going!!!" They seriously had NO IDEA why I would leave, no awareness at all that every day was a constant barrage of arbitrary criticisms and corrections.

The second best way is to reduce your own emotional involvement, if that's something you're capable of. Recognize that on a deep mental level, his criticisms and arbitrariness are not about you or your team at all - as I said above, it's far more about relieving his own internal mental pressures, scratching his mental itches, getting the voices in his head to shut up for a second. Roll with his arbitrary "corrections" if it's stuff like "%" vs. "percent", because hey, it's not your newsroom, and, again, the criticism and corrections are far more about him than you. If you can provide documentation of his corrections and reversals you might be able to get him to back off occasionally, but I suspect it's more likely that he'll either just flat out deny his previous "corrections" (yes, even when faced with proof in black and white), or just insist that it doesn't matter what he said before, this is what you're doing NOW and he DOESN'T HAVE TIME TO ARGUE ABOUT EVERY LITTLE THING JUST GO GO GO!!! If you can learn to let stuff like this roll off your back, and find other aspects of the job deeply satisfying, you can keep going at this particular job for a while. That's how you can "rise above" - view it as "just a job." But of course the sexism and racism adds a whole other level of horribleness to your day, every day, that I doubt is likely to change without someone above him bringing the hammer down (because his racism and sexism means he won't listen to you and your co-workers.)

TL:DR - DTMFA. Dude is fucked up, he won't change, and even if most or all news orgs have elements of this, you can do better.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

- His biggest problem is he is in over his head, and when his peers or people he admires points out "mistakes" he overreacts. Understand that his "friends" or people he wants to impress are only fucking with him, and he's too stupid to see he's being made a fool of and laughed at. People who pursue power are often immature assholes. Sorry your boss is too dumb to recognize he's trusting assholes who enjoying fucking with him and watching him jump on their command.

- No! He does not trust himself (see above) so why should he trust you?!

- About your example of what is a racist statement - damn. I wish that was the worse thing said to me in a professional workplace. No it's not right, but it's not exactly malicious. I probably would not address it with him because reducing the tension and anxiety is a short term goal here.

ProTip: When it's your business you won't treat people this way. Learn every skill possible and hone your craft, including learning to deal with difficult folks, when to hold your tongue, navigate strong emotions, and when to run away.

On a personal note, you don't sound particularly kind or understanding towards this guy. It's hard to put everything on the line and play his role. You sound entitled and a little spoiled. That's cool. But trust me, when it's your name and money on the line, the stakes are very very very high. Not an excuse, just letting you know it's easier to plead your case and win if you show some understanding for where he's coming from. It's a fallacy that the other guy has it easier than you. Everybody struggles. Just look at the guy, he's struggling. Be the bigger person for your own well-being.
posted by jbenben at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2016

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