Payoff of a life lesson learned - Trust
Updated: Feb 20, 2021
So jumping forward quite a bit from my last lesson, I want to tell you all about how trust is earned and how it pays off. I was in my last month as President and COO of the San Diego Union Tribune though I didn't know that at the time. My mentor and boss, Austin Beutner had been fired a couple of weeks early by Jack Griffin, the CEO of Tribune Company at that time. He warned me they probably were coming after me but nothing I could do about that so I just kept doing my job. One of the things I had done since taking over the top job there was informal group meetings with the entire company. It was two meetings every two weeks. One with Advertising, Circulation and Finance. And one with Editorial. The meeting I am going to discuss today was with Editorial. If you know anything about Newspapers, the Editorial team can be very intimidating to talk to. They are a group of highly educated people that investigate and dig into every kind of issue. It takes special kind of person, someone who questions authority and pulls no punches. And let me say it again, very smart, educated people. Well the one thing I decided early on in my career, was to always tell the truth. As an example, in an earlier meeting with Editorial, I was asked about the possibility of layoffs. I said if we could turn around advertising and get to flat and hold it, there wouldn't be any layoffs. But if we continued to go down, it was inevitable. But if we could grow it a little bit, there might be pay increases. To my surprise, it was not taken badly. But then, I was speaking honestly so I shouldn't have been surprised. They were not happy by any measure, but they accepted it and seem to understand. So with all that set up, here is the payoff.
When Austin was fired, there was a big news media frenzy, stories of shock and outrage and opinion pieces on what could be done. But if you have been in the business long enough, you know how this plays out, some other story takes over and pretty soon the story moves to the inside pages, then it disappears. It takes about a week to ten days. So two weeks after that, Jack Griffin present his side of the story in the Los Angeles Times. And I had a meeting scheduled with Editorial that day. So I went up to the newsroom and 90%+ of the employees gather around to hear my update. I asked for questions. Some asked me what I thought about the story. It trigger something in me. I poured the follow words out as best as I can remember. I said you know, Editorial employee are like dogs that chase a fire engine. They take off at first with great enthusiasm and try to run the truck down, but the truck disappears and they come back and wait for the next truck. I said why the blank would Jack Griffin do that? Bring up a story that was already done. Was I working for a moron? I couldn't believe he didn't understand the basic rules of control of a negative story. Don't bring it up again after it has passed. And they I stopped and thought about what I just said. To Editorial. On the record. So I laughed, nervously, and said, Hey, can this be off the record, retroactively? If you could not put this on your blog, twitter or facebook? I think Jack wouldn't appreciate the candor and it might be bad for me. A beat or two went by. Then someone (still don't know who) spoke out and "As long as you tell us the truth, we got your back" or words to that effect. Well that was trust. And while I did get fired about six weeks later, it wasn't for what I had said.
Trust. You earn it by being honest.