Mentoring is an integral part of the business world and is becoming increasingly popular in areas like sports coaching, career development and educational mentoring. Yet somehow the idea that mentoring is now practiced, or at least encouraged, in the media seems unfathomable to most of us. Journalism has a particular reputation for being a hard-nosed and cut-throat profession. Obviously it has changed and evolved over the last 20 years and has fully embraced the digital revolution, but old habits persist. There may be fewer wizened old hacks combing over the news stories, but those that do remain are fiercely protective of their scoops and are loathe to share the information or the techniques used to extract this information with junior members new to the industry. Well, all that is about to change. Experts have urged senior media practitioners to encourage and develop mentoring in the industry, especially in the newsroom in order to give further training to young graduates on the practices of journalism. Although today’s graduates may well have an extensive knowledge of the software and processes involved in today’s digital media, they are sadly lacking in the basic art of general newsgathering. They may have the theoretical knowledge to cope, but they haven’t yet learned to identify the journalistic hunch and act on it.
Speaking in an interview by Adage, the chief strategy officer at MediaCom, Sue Unerman, said mentors, whether they are chosen or accidentally fall into the role are essential in the newsroom, and that having people to learn from is vital for the future wellbeing of the industry:
“Having a mentor is essential to everyone’s career development. Sometimes, a mentor will be one organised by your employers in a structured programme. Sometimes, a mentor will be an “accidental mentor” – someone you’ve come across who has taught you something that no formal process can teach you,” Unerman noted.
She believes the mentoring relationship will give both parties a new and fresh perspective on their respective careers, and possibly even on their lives:
“It will hone listening skills. It will create new challenges for both. Sometimes, people get stuck because they need someone to believe in them, and mentoring is great at delivering this to both participants. Sometimes you get stuck and you need a new technique to solve a problem.”
However she is also keen to stress that the mentoring relationship will only work if it is based on a marriage of equals: in other words on an adult relationship where the relative status and experience of each participant is irrelevant. The idea that the mentoring should be based on a similar relationship to that of parent/child is nonsensical and will not work. If people envisage a mentee sitting at the feet of the mentor and waiting expectantly for words of wisdom, then they really have no conception about what mentoring really is.
Unerman’s sentiments were echoed by Dave Jonett, the president of Aegis Media. He believes that the career development of staff should be multi-dimensional in order to maximise the development and refinement of everyone’s capabilities. He envisages a mentoring system where there will be some basic training, as well as some more-tailored training, and possibly even some highly specialised training to develop particular capabilities. However, what underpins all of this is the one-to-one mentoring relationship:
“In my view, the mentor’s role is to impart wisdom, provide expertise, share knowledge, enhance their education, enhance their careers and build their networks … but it should be so much more. I think the best mentors become a guide to how to holistically succeed at work.”
However the mentoring benefits don’t stop there. Jonett believes that the mentor can also gain considerably from the mentoring programme. Both parties get time to reflect on their work, make sense of the things that are going on day to day and help each other in tackling these issues. If the relationship develops well, there will be a trusting environment to explore all the trials and tribulations that we face in our day jobs.