When I look back at my career in the newsroom, there is one lesson that is burned into everything that I do: Don’t wait. Go rogue. But go rogue respectfully. This has been woven into all my work and is clearly part of my classroom philosophy. Let’s take a moment to understand what “not waiting” means.
First, you have to start with Robert Krulwich‘s commencement speech to UC Berkeley Journalism School’s Class of 2011. When I first read his speech “There are some people who don’t wait,” I knew he had finally put my style of work into words. That speech became my mantra — my new religion. I immediately created this site to help preach this gospel: http://horizontalloyalty.com/. The nutgraph, if you are in a tl;dr state of mind, is don’t wait for the leadership to notice you, empower you or even take care of you. You and your friends and colleagues have to do that yourselves, and this is the era to do it.
Don’t ask for permission. We’ve all heard that, right? Ask for forgiveness instead. But it’s hard to do when you are working within a large system and you think the system has valid and established rules. Who are you to disrupt it? When I got to academia, it was not an easy transition to go from newsroom to classroom. I am still not sure I fit in. My default, though, was asking for forgiveness because I was new to this system. And, I found, the system didn’t know what to do with me.
Going rogue the right way
For many of us, that’s been a hallmark of our careers: Bosses that don’t know what to do with us. We don’t know how we are supposed to fit in. We just know that this system needs to be disrupted, and we want to disrupt. It turns out, I have found, that many leaders — the smart leaders — want you to go rogue. They may not know it, but they do. In fact, they need you to go rogue. But here are the factors to keep in mind:
Be respectful. Going rogue means chaos, it means recklessly doing what you want. That’s not going to get you where you need to go. Disruption just to disrupt is pointless. Going rogue respectfully means having a strong foundation in the values of the system you are working within. Get informed, get educated and get as prepared as you can so you can make smart decisions.
Be smart. You are not taking risks. You’re taking calculated risks. Make sure you have done your homework to ensure success. That means make sure you achieve the traditional objectives, not just those disruptive ones. Another way of saying it is C.Y.A. by doing your basic job as you innovate. Make sure you have invested in looping the right people in.
Communicate. Don’t surprise your boss with disruption. Don’t catch your students off guard with this experimental classroom. Plant seeds way in advance, so when the disruption happens no one is surprised. They knew what you were working toward and in the case of the class, they signed up to join you.
Promote and celebrate. This is tough for us journos who don’t want to talk about ourselves, but the bottom line is if we don’t, who will? We have to celebrate our success and our failures. Well, celebrate the lessons learned from our failures. Take a moment to write up a memo; create a website for the class or project; submit your work for awards. Let people know what you are working on. It’s work, but it is worth it so you can continue to work on your terms.
Build culture. The most important thing to do is to establish the right culture and expectation, whether for a class or a newsroom project. I’ve learned the hard way that the I-don’t-know-let’s-Google-it model (a.k.a., let-me-show-you-how-to-teach-yourself-how-to-fish model) did not go over well with many students who were accustomed to the traditional professor-speaks-students-listen-because-there-will-be-a-quiz dynamic. So, when I begin a new class, I establish the tone and culture of the class, aimed at reframing the dynamic and empowering students.
Yes, I am still the professor and, yes, I likely have most of the answers, but the goal is to have the students figure it out for themselves in — here’s the key — an environment that feels safe and fun. You can’t take risks if you don’t feel like you are being truly supported. Getting an E for effort but a D+ in the class doesn’t send the right message. So you have to truly commit to this new type of culture — a digital culture.
Lots of my projects and work have all these things woven into them. From a diversity project to learning code to #wjchat to my most recent elective course Glass Journalism. The secret to these projects, whether successful or not, was to collaborate with passionate people who have the same overarching goal. In my case, people who care about advancing — or saving — journalism, and don’t want to wait their turn.
Robert Hernandez has made a name for himself as a journalist of the Web, not just on the Web. His primary focus is exploring and developing the intersection of technology and journalism — to empower people, inform reporting and storytelling, engage community, improve distribution and, whenever possible, enhance revenue. He is an Associate Professor of Professional Practice at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, but he’s not an academic … he’s more of a “hackademic” and specializes in “MacGyvering” Web journalism solutions. He has worked for seattletimes.com, SFGate.com, eXaminer.com and La Prensa Gráfica, among others. Hernandez is also the co-founder of #wjchat and creator of the Learn Code for Journalism with Me project. He is currently serving on the Online News Association board and is a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.