When the interview really counts: Why you must connect with the Assistant ND.

News Directors get all the attention traditionally when it comes to job interviews and station identity.  They set the agenda for the station and have the most connections to help you in the future right?  Not always.  Over the years I have learned that getting along with the assistant news director can be even more important for several reasons.

First it’s a simple matter of exposure.  You will barely see the news director. That person is just too busy any given day.  That means when it comes to review time the person who will weigh in most heavily about you is the assistant news director.  Also, this is the person you will go to first when you want time off, a different shift, have an ethical dilemma, personality conflict issue with a staffer, or are considering asking for a promotion.   If you don’t see eye to eye with the assistant news director your stress level will easily double on the job.

Now, because you spend more time with the assistant news director, you must remember this person is the key influencer about you to the news director.  The AND’s opinion carries a lot of weight.  Yes, news directors can and sometimes do disagree with the AND’s view.  But why risk a potential personality clash with a person that plays such a key role in determining your reputation?

Remember an AND’s reach goes way beyond the newsroom.  Since assistant news directors spend a lot of time recruiting potential employees they are the true networkers for the station.  They are constantly talking with people you want to impress in other markets nationwide.

Assistant news directors are also “in training” most of the time to become NDs.  Very few are happy just to sit in the number two position.  Most are waiting for their big chance to take control of a newsroom.  If you get along with a real up and comer, this person could catapult both of your careers, as much or more than the ND him/herself.

So now that you know what’s at stake, here are some techniques to figure out if you and the assistant ND will get along.

  • Talk news philosophy
  • Ask for the AND’s role models
  • Do a background check

When you interview at a station you always need to figure out the news philosophy.  It is key, and must happen.  (See “Interview the Station” for ways to do this.)   But when you ask questions about news philosophy, you need to really quiz the assistant news director.  Here’s why:  Just because the news director wants a station to go in a certain direction doesn’t mean the assistant news director agrees.  This can be especially true in chronic 2nd, 3rd and 4th place stations.  Often there are philosophical debates raging all the time about what the station’s news philosophy should be.  The assistant news director is usually much more hands on in the day-to-day coverage decisions than the news director.  Time and again I sat in newsrooms where the news director clearly stated one news philosophy, and the assistant news director executed a different news philosophy.  I know that sounds crazy, but it happens A LOT.  You need to make sure you can roll with both news philosophies if that’s the case.  Sometimes you have to try and placate both the ND’s and AND’s expectations on a story.  If the ND starts taking a more hands on approach you need to be able to change your work to reflect that news philosophy.  Same is true if the AND expects a different news philosophy.  If the two of them differ greatly, you need to decide whether you want to walk into a situation where you are constantly caught in the middle and being asked whose side you are on.  You will end up in battles of will between the top two newsroom managers.  You will feel like you cannot win, no matter what you do on any given day.  If you get in this situation, it can be better to execute the AND’s news philosophy because he/she runs day-to-day operations in the newsroom.  You cannot execute that if you don’t know what the AND wants.

Another way to make sure you and the assistant news director will jibe is to talk about your favorite news people during the interview.  Ask who the AND’s mentors are and why.  You will learn a lot about how this person ticks.  Ask if the AND knows some of your favorite journalists and see what the reaction is to those names.  You want a shared connection to start building a relationship if you decide to work with that particular AND.

If you have mutual acquaintances call those people to get more perspective.  Just remember the AND will call also.  Be on your p’s and q’s.  You do not want the mutual acquaintance to say you thought the AND was a jerk, but you are trying to be sure.  If you do not have mutual acquaintances then you really need to contact staffers at the AND’s former stations.  We explain how to do this in The Station Called. The Job’s Yours. Now What?

Remember the AND will be the most influential in your day-to-day existence in a given newsroom.  If you are like oil and water, it will mean you either lose a job or get an ulcer waiting for that AND to move on to greener pastures.