Leadership Report 2011- Best practice #4

4. Get comfortable with not having all the answers

Can top newsroom executives give up being the source of wisdom and authority? Can the boss create space and encourage others to step up? This shift is a key determinant of whether an organization can transform.
Indeed, many newsrooms were slow to adapt to digital in the past decade because their leaders could not understand that the transformation had to begin with them. The culture tended to give command to the booming voice that could fill the meeting room. Digital demands a fundamentally different culture, one that is adaptive and collaborative. That, in turn, requires that leaders approach their roles differently.

Jon Cooper

Jon Cooper, vice president for content at the Journal Register Company, said that admitting he doesn’t know it all has been a critical part of his efforts to help lead the transformation of the group of dozens of local news organizations.

“To be at the front of a room and not have an answer is difficult. ‘I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out together’ is an acceptable answer. It took me awhile to figure that out,” Cooper said.

Cooper was well positioned to adopt this attitude, having moved from leading a newsroom to becoming multimedia editor for the entire corporation in 2007.

“I had to humble myself and ask a lot of people for help. But if you’re willing to learn from everyone around you, it makes the people you’re leading and teaching trust you more.”

As vice president for content since 2010, Cooper has been a point person pushing and encouraging the transformation of the Journal Register Company to implement a strategy of digital first. 

(A newly created Digital First Media company will manage both Journal Register and MediaNews Corp., and Cooper is vice president for the new company.)

As a 2010-11 fellow, Cooper focused on a plan to communicate the “digital first” strategy across the organization with consistent messaging, strategic delegation of tasks and training and to develop ways to assess whether the communication was effective.

He points to a key accomplishment during his time as VP content at the Journal Register Company and as a leadership fellow: “The ability to create more of an open leadership, an open and collaborative learning environment, and attempting to remove the fear of failure.”

Flattening the culture also means cultivating and directing the leadership capacity of people who don’t necessarily have the job titles.

Cooper moved things forward by delegating, which didn’t come easy. But “when you identify people who can take things off your plate, you have to let them do it.”

“I started having conversations with people who work for me and asked them what they wanted in the next six months, one year, two years out in their career,” Cooper said. “Based on that, I gave them specific tasks.

“For instance, I tasked someone with video. I told him I needed him to keep coming to me with ideas on how to move this forward. You have to spend time with these people who have been identified as leaders and give them either long-term or short-term projects.”

Next >

Leadership Report 2011


Michele McLellan

This report was written by Michele McLellan, a journalist and consultant who works on projects that help foster a healthy local news ecosystem. As senior leadership consultant for [email protected], McLellan helped develop KDMC leadership programs in 2008-2011. She also blogs about key leadership best practices at Leadership 3.0.

Leadership Blog

Read News Leadership 3.0, a blog dedicated to exploring issues of digital newsroom leadership. Visit the blog.

Leadership Report 2011

Read the 2011 Leadership Report from KDMC.

Leadership Report 2009

Read the 2009 Leadership Report from KDMC.

Leadership Report 2008

Read the 2008 Leadership Report from KDMC.

Leadership Report 2007

Read the 2007 Leadership Report from KDMC.


All fields required.


[email protected] is now offering customized digital strategies training for news organizations that is designed to help leaders create versatile, innovative and collaborative cultures for the 21st Century. For more information please contact .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Leadership 3.0 Blog



Upcoming Seminars