The first thing Edward Miller did at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in San Antonio was kill off money. Counterintuitive as it may be, said the managing director of Newsroom Leadership Group, “money is not a motivator.” Quiet befuddlement seemed to hang mist-like over the editors and publishers who had come to his talk, “Knowing What You Want and Getting Others to Do it for You.” Rather, said the goateed Miller, “money is an entitlement. It is an entitlement for performance in the past. It is not a motivator or a predictor of how [staff is] going to do in the future.”
A woman in the back offered her own quick and dirty motivation technique: “This story is a piece of crap, and if you don’t do better, I’m going to fire you.”
But Miller, once an editor and later publisher of The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., and now an affiliate of the Poynter Institute, next did away with not only intimidation but also passive-aggressive lashings. Could this be true? “Coercion will get you compliance,” he explained. “It won’t get it to be good stuff in the long run.”
Decades of tried-and-true newsroom management style just out the window? Yes, Miller argued. Competence recognition is the best motivator. He offered a guideline that works for teachers. “Anything you can do to increase someone’s competence will create self-motivation.”
Jared Jacang Maher was a 2003 fellow at the Academy for Alternative Journalism. He is an editor of the literary anthology “Life and Limb: Skateboarders Write From the Deep End,” coming out with Soft Skull Press this summer. In August he will begin a fellowship at Denver’s Westword. This article first appeared in the June 26 San AANtonio Convention Daily.