Kneeland Newsletter


Joan Barrett, Kneeland Board Member and Trainer, is president of Sunflower Broadcasting Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Schurz Communications Inc. This month, Joan encourages news executives to remember one of the most critical lessons Carole taught: there's no time like the present to embrace change.

Change. There's been plenty of that going around these days, and it's no secret that our business is in the throes of change from top to bottom, inside and out. As leaders, we know that it's not only part of our job to manage change, it's also our job to actually initiate change. Of course, this doesn't mean we look to make a change, just for the sake of it. Instead, it's our responsibility to find ways to make changes that increase morale and generate more business.

We've all heard stories about companies that refused to change. At one time, the Swiss dominated the watch industry. As the story goes, when they were approached with the idea of utilizing new chip technology, they rejected it saying, "but that isn't how a real watch is made!" We all know how that story ends: the Swiss lost share and the Japanese watch industry was born.

As news leaders, we have to be careful not to become Swiss watchmakers. It's also important that we continue to challenge our employees to look for new ways to innovate. One of my favorite stories is about a group of researchers who put five monkeys in a habitat. There was a banana hanging at the top of a small staircase. Whenever the monkeys approached the banana, they were sprayed with cold water. It didn't take long for the monkeys to stop trying for the banana. When a new monkey was placed in the habitat - and one of the original four removed - the new monkey would try for the yellow treat. The other monkeys would grab him, not letting him even try to reach the banana. The researchers substituted all the monkeys one-by-one, until all five of the original monkeys were gone. None of the new monkeys would try for the banana. They didn't know why - they just knew, "that's the way we do it around here - No one tries for the banana."

Sometimes the best ideas are right in front of us. We have to be willing to try for them, and we have to encourage our employees to take the risk as well. I believe that journalism is still one of the most exciting industries in the world and we will figure out a way to come out of this stronger. We simply need to be willing to embrace change and, once in a while, take a few minutes to run up the stairs to grab a banana!


Blaise Labbe, Kneeland Board Member and a 2002 Kneeland Fellow, is news director of KCTV in Kansas City. This month, Blaise encourages new news executives to "be better today than yesterday" - one of Carole's driving mottos.

A month after I started as news director at KCTV in Kansas City, a photojournalist asked me if I realized what I had gotten myself into. I explained to him I knew there were going to be issues when I joined the team, but that I was still feeling confident. He laughed and said, "You thought you were coming to fight a two alarm fire, but now you now realize it is a five alarm."

I smiled... because I knew things wouldn't change overnight.

Carole Kneeland often encouraged her staff to be "better today than yesterday." I have internalized that saying and encourage you to do the same. New news executives have many challenges. They have to quickly evaluate staff, systems, budgets, ratings, research, and become familiar with their new role. It is easy to get distracted and lose focus. It is about keeping the big picture in mind and staying out of the weeds.

  • - Set realistic and attainable goals for the newsroom.
  • - Align them with a timeline.
  • - Celebrate when your goals are reached.
  • - Articulate your expectations.
  • - Keep your GM in the loop, so that he/she can help you succeed.

Not long ago, that photojournalist returned to my office and said he was pleased with our progress. Our ratings have grown in some areas, and there is definitely a better vibe in our newsroom. We're better today than we were yesterday, and will be even better tomorrow. Thanks, Carole.


The Kneeland Project was one of 22 journalism organizations nationwide in August who received grants from Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. This amazing organization has been our largest and most generous funder for the past decade and we couldn't do our work without their support.

Founded by Edith Kinney Gaylord, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation's mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information.

"We're proud to be long-time supporters of The Kneeland Project," said Bob Ross, President and CEO of Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. "The current financial challenges facing news media pose a threat to journalism, and we believe that The Kneeland Project has an important role to play in improving the quality of local news across our country."

The grant will allow The Kneeland Project to offer more journalists high-quality training related to ethical decision-making, newsroom systems and coaching, action planning, managing alternative news sources, local news expansion and content options. It goes without saying that The Kneeland Project's board of directors, staff and Fellows are forever grateful for their unwavering and incredibly generous support.


Over fifty news directors applied for our Spring 2011 New Media Leadership Forum, and eighteen of the industry's most seasoned, veteran news directors were selected to join us to both share and gain knowledge. Here's what a few of them had to say about the program.

"As journalists, it is vital to step back and allow ourselves time to review our role in our communities. This past week of study and peer support allowed for an inspiring opportunity to learn." - Juli Buehler, news director, WLUK, Green Bay

"The Kneeland Project was a 'stop-and-smell-the-roses' moment for me. Invaluable. Journalism demands my best and it deserves my best. Thanks to all of you - trainers and Fellows - who took the time to lead me in a better direction." - Chuck Maulden, news director, KTHV, Little Rock

"Being surrounded by such innovative and experienced leaders for even four days gave me the insight, techniques, and tangible take-aways that I will draw upon for the rest of my career, and even beyond the workplace. Kneeland gave me a new outlook, bursting with ideas and solutions, along with a road map to success as a news director and as a leader." - Brandon Mercer, news director, FOX 40, Sacramento

"To lead dynamic, smart, inquisitive people who seek growth and inspiration is a tremendous challenge. The Carole Kneeland Project equipped me to do just that. I'm so grateful for this experience. Every news director in the country should be required to attend." - Triston Sanders, news director, WCTV, Tallahassee

Carole's Motto: Put People First

Blaise Labbe, Kneeland Fellow, Board Member, and news director of KCTV5 in Kansas City, shares his thoughts about the future of the industry. Blaise encourages news executives to remember one of the most critical lessons Carole taught: PUT PEOPLE FIRST.

The New Year has arrived and history proves that our economy will likely rebound sometime soon and many industries will be getting back to "normal." But the new normal for our industry is here to stay, and it's clear that broadcasting has changed forever.

As we begin the shift in our thought process, I am reminded of one of Carole's key principles: put people first, and product will follow. Technology, new trends, and trimmed budgets will force us to manage our staffs differently. For us to succeed in this new environment, we must put people first.

This is a time of leadership more than it is a time to manage. Executives must be more involved in the newsroom and with staff. Start now by making yourself accessible so your people can meet with you. Set up a calendar with open dates and times so they can schedule one-on-one time with you.

As the technology continues to evolve, make sure you understand it so that you know what folks are tackling. This will help you and your team create systems to make your newsroom more efficient, more productive, and less mistake-prone. It is incumbent upon you to create an atmosphere in which your staff understands there are standards and expectations that must be met, but allows them time to have fun in the process.

Most importantly, we must believe that our newsrooms are just that: our newsrooms. Doing more with less is only possible when we include everyone on our team. You and your staff will grow because you made inclusion a priority. Your team's appreciation for success will have new meaning because you all did it together.

Seems like that's something Carole figured out a long time ago.

The #1 Rule of Social Marketing

Chip Mahaney, Kneeland Fellow, Trainer, and Director of Digital Content for The E.W. Scripps Company, encourages newsrooms to quiet down and start listening.

We're broadcasters. We're really good at shouting out to the world all that we know. We're built for speed, we aim for accuracy, and we can find you on-air and online - however you want it.

It's a shame our listening skills haven't developed as much as our talking skills. In the old days, we could hide our listening weakness behind our powerful voice. But now that most of us are actively participating in social networks like Facebook and Twitter, our lack of true conversational skills is glaring.

Social networks were built for friends to share their lives and their ideas. Let's say two friends are having a conversation, and you (the TV station) walk up to them. What would you say? Too often, we scream out "Tonight at your house-kitten can kill you in your sleep!" without any regard to (1) who the two friends are or (2) what they were talking about in the first place.

The #1 rule of social networking is BE SOCIAL. It's okay to talk, but even more important to listen, and to show your customers you're actively engaged in listening to what they're saying.

ACTION ITEM: Spend at least five minutes a day engaging your audience in their space. On Twitter, retweet interesting things your customers write, or @reply to them to add value to their tweet. On Facebook, comment on your customers' statuses or wall-posts. Each time you do this, you're going to make them feel special. Keep doing it, every day, and over time you'll build a large list of loyal fans and customers.

Dotting your i's and crossing your t's
Handling budget constraints ethically is critical

Joan Barrett, longtime Kneeland trainer, board member, and President of Sunflower Broadcasting, Inc., reminds us that short-term gains at the expense of our high ethical standards is always a dangerous game.

There is no doubt that it is a challenging time right now. We are all looking for ways to grow revenue and reduce expense. Sometimes a quick and easy way out is to allow editorial control or input through sponsorships or content partnerships. This is dangerous for two reasons: you can jeopardize the credibility of your entire news organization, and the FCC has strict rules against this.

Even though it's attractive to advertisers and very saleable, it creates a perception that news can be bought. If they can do it, they assume others are doing it. They begin to question the legitimacy of all the news you cover, and they tell their friends how they "bought" that story. This undermines our entire industry and leads to further distrust of the media.

The FCC is also wary about outside influences and their presence in news. A few years ago, television stations were singled out for airing Video News Releases (VNR) without proper disclosure that the content was provided by an outside source. Even though the VNR may have been provided for free, the FCC interpreted its sponsorship rules to require disclosure whenever a VNR was used. Many of the newsrooms that were found in violation a few years ago had no policies regarding VNR use.

It's worth your time to review the FCC rules regarding sponsorship and identification with your sales and news employees. Use that time to review your station's policies and procedures regarding news content and sales.

It's often very tempting to make quick decisions for short-term gain, but that's shortsighted. Making sure your station upholds the highest ethical standards always is the right thing to do

Carole Kneeland: A life of inspiration
A note from Dave McNeely to Kneeland Friends in January 2008

Dave McNeely, lifetime Kneeland board member, author, and long-time political reporter for the Austin American Statesman, was Carole's husband for the last 15 years of her life. Like many of us who believe that Carole's spirit, integrity, and values have lived on through The Kneeland Project, Dave believes that the work of our Kneeland Fellows in newsrooms across the country helps keep Carole's vision alive.

Dear Friends:

It is very hard to believe that January 26, 2008, marks the tenth anniversary of Carole death.

Knowing her as I do from being her husband the previous 15 years, I can tell you that she would be incredibly flattered and proud in knowing that the spirit of creative, caring management that she had brought to the business of television news has continued to be spread through these efforts.

Carole always felt that the people who were in the trenches in newsroom management were not allowed sufficient training, were given more and more duties to perform without additional help, and had very little in the way of support.

The Kneeland Project that several of her friends and admirers started as she was dying a decade ago followed her wishes in trying to establish training programs aimed at helping those who are up against it every day to realize that they can be even more effective managers through planning, training, and treating people as they would like to be treated.

She would be impressed that so many of them have gone back into their newsrooms with renewed passion and energy, and that so many of you have contributed your hard-earned cash to help make that possible. Carole believed at a gut level in the democratic notion that an informed public can govern itself, and was incredibly committed to doing everything she could to make sure that the best possible information was made available to the public.

Thanks again so much for being a participant in Carole's dream. I know that she is smiling at the fruit that your efforts have borne.