Reporter 101: Dealing with Difficult People. (Yes, I may be talking about YOU)

As a reporter, I’ve dealt with a lot of difficult people. Most of them weren’t out on the streets or on a story. They were in the newsroom. C’mon, you must’ve heard about the stereotypes: reporters are narcissistic and producers are power-trippers. Let me be clear, they are just that, stereotypes, I’m not saying everyone is like that, or even the majority. It’s a small percentage, but hey, even a small number of those extreme personalities have the ability to make quite an impact. Add to that, the behavioral rules and norms of corporate America seldom exist in a newsroom, and you’ve got a recipe for a couple of blow-ups, a fair share of ego-tripping, and outbursts of all shapes and sizes.

Me? I’d prefer a mean person to an insecure one ten times out of ten. At least, I know what to expect. But insecurity breeds the kind of erratic behavior where you never know when a punch is coming, or a hug.

I’ve been fortunate to also work with some of the most secure, well-adjusted, talented, generous and inspirational people, willing to share their light. These people I will name. The others, I won’t. I know, not as juicy. Shoot me.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but if every newsroom had at least one of these people in it, they’d be blessed:

Kaity Tong. What a class act. Always friendly, and down to earth, despite the fact that she’s been a number one market anchor for decades. No one doesn’t like Kaity, from her co-workers to the viewers. She is beloved, and a true inspiration for her own brand of kindness, compassion and level of professionalism. Plus, she’s fun to go get drinks with.

Gerry Brooks. He’s one funny, witty guy. A hell of a fantastic writer, a credible anchor who thinks on his feet, generous with a compliment, and a direct leader in the newsroom. He’s a legend in Connecticut, and he makes everyone he works with shine.

Tom Appleby. A strict editor and News Director. Tom doesn’t let you get away with anything, and he doesn’t play favorites. The rules apply to everyone. And it’s the rules of writing and that standard of professionalism that I learned from Tom. He taught me how to structure a script, use proper grammar, and attribute. It’s those ethics and standards that I’ve brought with me throughout my career. He doesn’t sugarcoat, and that taught me to accept criticism and not take it personally. A valuable lesson.

Bruce Johnson. Bruce is a legendary reporter in Washington, DC. He taught me that you have to go for it. He leads by example, asking to cover important stories all over the globe. He has what some call chutzpah, and what I call balls. His tenacity inspired me to push despite adversity to cover stories that are close to my heart.

The other side? I’ve worked with some real winners. From the insecure reporter who started working at my station after me, who thought she should get more work than me and would tell anyone who’d listen. Actually, there’s two of those, come to think of it. The second reporter was stealthier though, digging dirt on my personal details to try and prove that financially she needed the work more than me, then dropping hints to the person who did the schedule that I was close to getting a new job. Oh yeah, I would confide that in YOU, right?

The photographer who refused to edit a story that we worked on together because he had other stories to work on more “worthy” of his time and skill. Yeah, well, eat my Emmy nomination.

Can’t forget the older, passive aggressive ninja of a reporter who writes emails criticizing your writing and story choice decisions, some disguised as jokes, some thinly veiled in a layer of politeness. Seriously? Go away.

Then there was the EP prone to ridiculous outbursts and lies. Like the time he didn’t like an on-camera tag i delivered, his anger exacerbated by an anchor’s inappropriate jokes after it on-air – and he flew into a rage and ran after me, slamming his fist into the wall, and cursing, in front of a guest that was to appear on our show in minutes. Good form. Quite a leader.

I could go on. But, I won’t. Just know, that if you get in this business, always seek out those who make you feel good about yourself as a person. Those that inspire.Those that share their light. Learn from them. And then, later on, share your light with others.

The petty bullshit – and there will always be petty bullshit – is found in places where insecurity abounds. Easy to write, but don’t let it get to you. Let it roll off your back. Because holding grudges or holding on to bitterness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. (best quote ever) Remember, when someone is acting petty or pissy, it’s not you, it’s all about them.

I mentor a lot of young people in this business. I can’t tell you how many young reporters call me with problems dealing with difficult people.

This business is for those who are strong of mind and conviction. It takes a while to hone the skill of not letting people bother you. But, you can do it. Listen, I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’m still fascinated by human behavior – I find myself talking to friends sometimes about something ridiculous someone said or did. But, I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t poison my spirit and the spirit of others by giving bad behavior my time and attention. If you just literally can not take being challenged by dysfunctional people, there’s got to be another business you can go into. Although from what I understand, crazy people exist in every office. They’re just not as crazy as TV people. We manufacture our own special brand.

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