“It’s not just about the money, it’s not just about commercial interests, it’s not just about who controls the news, who consumes the news. I think if you want to genuinely call yourself an international news agency, you actually do have to commit to telling stories that are really quite far away and making them relevant to the people that you’re trying to inform.”–Nina-Maria Potts

Summary

In this episode Nina-Maria Potts, director of global news coverage for Feature Story News, talks with Norman Sandridge (classics professor at Howard University, fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies), about what it’s like to be a leader in an international news organization and how journalism itself is a kind of leadership. They discuss how Nina evolved into her leadership role (and whether she truly thinks of herself as a leader) and how to tell a local story in such a way that it has relevance to a global audience. Click on the questions below to skip ahead.

Questions

  • What is a day in the life of a Director of Global News Coverage like? Does Nina use the word “leader” to think about what she does? (00:01:44)
  • Did Nina aspire to her leadership role or was it unexpected? (00:05:00)
  • Does Nina see herself as akin to an ancient general looking for the opportune moment (kairos) to lead? (00:07:38)
  • Does Nina’s leadership role include mentorship? (00:10:26)
  • Is Nina the primary “dot connector” of her organization? (00:12:20)
  • What does it feel like to be the leader who has to pay attention to everything all the time? Cf. Oedipus to the people of Thebes or Jason to the Argonauts (00:13:50)
  • Is it a good leadership trait to share the stresses of the job with your followers? How do you avoid going too far in sharing yourself? (00:20:28)
  • Is the leadership role a lonely one? (00:25:30)
  • What books or movies informed Nina’s journey into leadership through journalism? (00:27:40)
  • How does journalism count as leadership? Does journalism make it possible for people to have what they need and become what they need to be? (00:30:30)
  • How does a journalist, as a leader, decide what stories are necessary to report on? (00:37:44)
  • Is it frustrating that there is less market interest in positive, uplifting stories than in stories about disaster? Is there a way to get around this? (00:42:34)
  • Are we limited by human nature to focus only on the stories that are nearest to us? (00:44:42)
  • How important is global news coverage to helping people become less tribal? How do you tell a good global story? (00:46:18)
  • Does Nina have any examples of stories she has told that really resonated in ways she didn’t expect? What are the techniques for telling a story that resonates? (00:47:45)
  • Does Nina see a way for journalism to help us look at the same story and the same facts and then empathize with members of different “tribes”? (00:51:45)
  • Nina’s final question: How does someone in a senior management position become a strong leader without exerting too much control over someone’s personal identity? (01:00:20)

Key Insights

  • “I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m very bossy. But I was always attracted by the idea that if there was a gap or nobody seemed to be stepping into a space to take leadership, I was always interested in being the person that propelled a sense of momentum. I think I did have that in my character.”–Nina-Maria Potts
  • Stepping into a space where there’s a leadership vacuum can make you unpopular.
  • There are inherent risks in deciding to put yourself forward as a leader.
  • Encouraging everyone to talk and even mentor each other can ensure that an organization remains truly global.
  • To emerge as a strong, trusted leader is to not claim any credit–ever.
  • “If I was going to describe myself as a leader at all, it would be somebody that leads from behind. Because we’ve got terrific people in place that do most of the work.”–Nina-Maria Potts
  • There are three important features to leadership: empathy (as a listening tool), the ability to make swift decisions that are fair and instill confidence, and self-knowledge (the ability to identify in yourself the flaws that others might see).
  • Nobody likes change. Leaders must be prepared for a backlash to an initial enthusiasm for new leadership.
  • Leaders cannot expect to be everyone’s friend. In some ways you lose some of your friends.
  • It is becoming increasingly more challenging in this era of populism to persuade people that the facts are the facts.
  • One of the biggest challenges for a journalist is to generate global interest in what may be perceived to be a local story.
  • “It’s not just about the money, it’s not just about commercial interests, it’s not just about who controls the news, who consumes the news. I think if you want to genuinely call yourself an international news agency, you actually do have to commit to telling stories that are really quite far away and making them relevant to the people that you’re trying to inform.”–Nina-Maria Potts

Works Referenced

Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus 58-67

Apollonius’ Argonautica 2.631-637

The spy novels of John le Carré and Graham Greene

Greek Mythology

Dad’s Army

Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus 1.6.7 (c. 365 BC)

Dimitri Vassilakis, Jazz Democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udNJCRSABvw

Further Reading

For a good piece on the challenges of leadership and friendship see Nan Keohane’s “On Leadership