The journey continues: journalism, writing, and the cultural landscape

Everybody hurts: 10 reasons journalists can have morale problems

Posted by Holly Edgell on July 19, 2015

Non-journalists are often surprised to learn that working in journalism is not all excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment.  Working in television and digital news as I do, I find myself explaining that one of the biggest issues facing leaders is morale–and it’s one that often gets short shrift in the fast-paced, intense daily flow of work.


As many corporations have learned, a workforce of frustrated, frightened and angry employees is bad for productivity. There’s a reason new companies place a high premium on workplace amenities, generous benefits and opportunities for training and growth.

So why are so many journalists bummed out?

1. We are constantly finding out disturbing information about human nature.

2. That ever-present, sneaking feeling that you just missed a very important story/scoop.

3. Highly competitive. Journalists are constantly sizing themselves up against the news operation “across the street” as well as against their own co-workers. This is a losing game, but we can’t resist playing it.


4. Change. New technology, new platforms, new economic realities. It’s all scary.

5. With great responsibility and public presence come outsized egos. And, the flip-side is deep insecurity.

6. One minute you’re winning, the next you are down in the cellar.

A recent study looked at how constantly monitoring performance via metrics affects newsroom morale. No surprise, it found that simply checking how individual digital stories performed–or looking at daily television ratings–can be either be a huge downer or a massive upper–and both outcomes offer distortion that can feed into insecurity and frustration. MORE Study: Metrics have ‘powerful influence’ on journalists’ morale

7. Work-life balance. Say what?

8. Money. Unless you are a network anchor who writes a best-seller and marries money, you are unlikely to be rich. You will work very hard for long hours.

9. Love and hate from the public. When we give voice to the voiceless, expose the baddies and hold the powerful accountable we are heroes. When mess up, everyone knows and won’t let us forget it.

10. Bosses who just don’t get it.

Believe it or not, journalists are not always the best leaders! We tend to be impatient, cynical, skeptical and highly motivated by individual achievement. The qualities that make a reporter, producer or other newsie great at news gathering can make us terrible as managers. Recommended: What Great Bosses Know (podcasts)

As a newsroom leader myself, I find one of the toughest challenges is distinguishing between individual and organizational angst: There are people who have personal or professional problems unique to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Then are also low morale themes that permeate and fester. Tackling morale problems effectively requires leaders to correctly diagnose before taking action.

So why to we do it?

Remember that excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment I mentioned earlier? It does exist! Also, we love being in the know and on the front lines of life.

There is no formula for all of this. But, we know listening and hearing are vital. We know that walking the talk speaks volumes.  Suggestions welcome!


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Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries.

Posted by Holly Edgell on June 28, 2015

Is it another sign of maturity, or just a rather twisted and voyeuristic streak? Lately, it’s hard for me to sit through a fictional television program; it has to be about depravity, murder, secrets and/or lies to really hold me (True Detective, Season One). Similarly, I used to love to read fiction; now, magazines like Harper’s and the New Yorker hold my attention, as can biographies–especially revolving around themes of race.

Exception Alert: “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a comedy, is the bomb. Not suprisingly, it comes from the twisted and awesome mind of Tina Fey.


Thanks to the podcast “Death, Sex & Money,” I have a great resource for discovering documentaries I might not know about otherwise. There is a link to a Google spreadsheet on the show’s website, and it’s being populated by fans of the the podcast.

Go here to check it out: Summer Documentary List

I was moved to add three docs of my own choosing:

  • “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden”
  • “Open Secret”
  • “Little White Lie”

The list reminded me I’d not yet seen “Grey Gardens,” which omission I rectified this weekend. Other docs I’ve watched this summer (pre-list) include “There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane,” and “The 9/11 Faker.” Also, “The Vivian Maier Mystery,” “Savage Memory,” and “Love & Terror On The Howling Plains of Nowhere.”

Get the picture? Sensing a theme?

Documentaries allow me to feel things I don’t normally tap into on a regular basis. They remind me that life is large, that time is short, and that there are really more important things than x, y or z.

Human beings are so improbable. How do we ever get anything done? How do we find and then lose ourselves and each other?

More documentary recommendations always welcome! (Remember my favorite themes, please).

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4 + 4: A tweet that says a lot about how to live and be a decent person

Posted by Holly Edgell on June 27, 2015

Photo Jun 13, 3 13 07 PM

To step outside oneself in attempt to take stock is as important as it is difficult. If you’re like me, the result of self-examination is black and white and may depend on one’s mood.

Good mood: “You, you’re awesome! Look at all you’ve accomplished, the places you’ve been and the people you have in your life.”

Bad mood: “(Sigh) Well, at least you’re not incarcerated.”

I spotted this Tweet earlier this morning and found it heartening. It’s as good a piece of advice for a good life as any I’ve seen.

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Warning, this blog is personal: Last night I wept at the Tears for Fears concert in Kansas City

Posted by Holly Edgell on June 16, 2015

You’ve seen this: Concert footage in which fans are crying. I never understood it. Sure, the music is great and the band members are (sometimes) good looking, but weeping at a concert?

Last night I wept at the Tears for Fears concert in Kansas City. On and off, from the first strains of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” through the encore “Woman in Chains” and “Shout.”

Tears for Fears played the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri on June 15, 2015.

Tears for Fears played the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri on June 15, 2015.

There was something in those familiar, loved songs–rendered even better and new again live–that hit me in the heart. Hearing Roland Orzabal (best voice in pop music) got right in amongst me. Also, the band seemed to see the fans as a mass audience of old friends, with warm smiles and genuine enjoyment of the crowd.

The years–with all the good and bad they have held–rolled over me again and again.

And there’s another, very important thing. For a variety of reasons, I have never settled down in a geographic place. A sense of only partially belonging here or there is something I am now used to, and most of the time I don’t even think about it.

MORE: Holly’s Tears for Fears Spotify playlist (You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Orzabal cover “Creep” by Radiohead)

Last night, I think I was moved, in part, because I remembered that I belong to a generation and I (finally) understood something about what that means. In a hall full of singing, dancing and cheering strangers (average age around 42, I’d guess), I felt connected. Music carries us through time. So, I suppose I will always have a “place.”

Artwork on the shirt I bought at the concert on June 15, 2015.

Artwork on the shirt I bought at the concert on June 15, 2015.

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Stay-cation or vacation? 3 things to consider before making your decision

Posted by Holly Edgell on June 7, 2015


Say you take a few days off: Just enough to take a trip somewhere nearby and affordable. OR, you could use that travel time to take naps, putter around your garden and explore the place where you live.

3 tips to making the decision

1 – Exhaustion factor. If you are really beat, the stay-cation may be the best way to recuperate. If you have kids or pets, however, staying home could add to your exhaustion factor.

2 – If you did not already live where you do, is it a place you’d want to visit? For mid-size to large cities, the answer could well be “Yes.” However, if you’ve lived there most of your life, getting away is probably the more refreshing option.

NOTE: If you are new to town (like yours truly in Kansas City), the stay-cation can be great. Perfect for hitting up markets, museums, or just taking a walk around your new community. Plus, you’ve already got a place to stay.

3 – Weather. If it’s more to your liking where you are than anywhere else you can get to and/or afford, staying put is going to make you happier.

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Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth

Posted by Holly Edgell on April 22, 2015

All hail the Tree of Wisdom! Placencia, Belize. 

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RIP Anne Tkach: I hardly knew you, but now I know you were amazing

Posted by Holly Edgell on April 19, 2015

Here’s how I knew Anne Tkach: As Adam Hesed’s girlfriend, who came with him to family gatherings throughout the year: Thanksgiving, birthdays, Christmas. She was warm and kind, but we never really had a deep conversation; now I wish we had.

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It’s a little complicated: Adam Hesed is a member of my sister-in-law Emily Edgell’s (nee Shavers) family: a clan that includes blood ties as well as family by choice. Because Emily and my brother Randy have the biggest house and yard, we tend to do the major occasions there.

I knew that Anne and Adam were involved with music–I did not know that Anne was a big deal on the St. Louis music scene, playing in bands and supporting her fellow musicians in all kinds of ways.

On April 9, Anne died in a house fire. She was 48 years old. You can read about what happened here.

My mother told me the news; she had just seen Anne at Easter Sunday festivities, which I missed–driving back to Kansas City, where I live.

Checking Anne’s Facebook profile, I learned just how much she impacted the community in life–and about the shockwaves and despair her death left in its wake.

READ: This tribute in The Riverfront Times

On April 18, I attended Anne’s funeral in Webster Groves; Emmanuel Episcopal Church was packed–standing room only, This is where I learned a great deal more about Anne; that she was deeply loved by a lot of people–because she was generous, humble, and loved to knit. That she also loved to wear overalls I already knew. Also, that she loved Adam Hesed.

The sadness I felt was mostly for the living: Adam, Anne’s father Peter, Emily, the Hesed family. But, I also wished I had known Anne better.

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I found my roots in Strawberry Hill, a Kansas City (Kansas) neighborhood

Posted by Holly Edgell on March 22, 2015

Alvin George Edgell (my father) was born in Kansas City, Kansas on Feb. 3, 1924. His mother and father, childless in their thirties, may have been surprised by his arrival!

Neither of my grandparents were from the area. Emma Edgell (nee Blahnik) was a fairly intrepid young woman, moving from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Denver to find work. She met Kinsey Edgell there. Kinsey, a West Virginia native (in West Virginia the name Edgell is about as common as Smith or Jones, by the way), must have been fairly intrepid himself, heading to Colorado to seek a better future.

In the 1920s, Emma and Kinsey ran a boarding house on Orville Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, in a neighborhood called Strawberry Hill. Then, it was a magnet for immigrants, mostly South Slavic. Today, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center (established in 1988) boasts permanent exhibits for the countries of Croatia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Polish, Slovakia, Slovenia and Russia.

My father's block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas.

My father’s block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas. (Google Maps)

My father remembers being one of the few non-immigrant kids in his school. Holy Family Catholic Church served as a spiritual and cultural hub for the community. You can read about its history on the church website.

My grandparents, as far as I can tell, had no strong religious feelings then. (Later in life, my grandmother became an active of member of a Methodist congregation in Michigan). My father, intrigued by guitar-strumming Mormons who lodged at the Orville Avenue boarding house, decided to become a Latter Day Saint at age eight. That’s a story for another blog post!

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When I first visited my father’s street 2007, I found signs of a new immigrant community: Latinos, mainly with roots in Mexico. Many people not from this area may not know that Kansas City’s Hispanic ties date back many generations, especially on the Kansas side. Significantly, by the 1920s, most laborers on the local Santa Fe Railroad tracks were Mexican.

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As a person who is constantly moving, I am very fascinated by places–in particular, the places on the map where my forebears lived. So, to find myself living in Kansas City (Missouri), within an easy drive of the place where my father spent his formative years is profound.

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Places in my heart: Central America & the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (da U.P.)

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 21, 2015

Growing up in a family that moved every two or three years, I could count on two places that changed very little and offered warm welcomes. These two places are on their own both “off the beaten path” and taken together present a rather unlikely pairing:

Menominee, Michigan (USA)–where my father grew up on the corner of 13th Avenue & 21st Street. On vacation trips and for longer periods in between my father’s overseas assignments, we lived here. I briefly attended elementary school and later high school in Menominee and made friends. (Shoutout! My dear high school BFFs: Kelly W., Kelley M., and Debbie S.)

Belize City, Belize–where my mother grew up on New Road. Similar to Menominee, I attended bits and pieces of school in Belize and spent vacations there. Later, I began my journalism career there. Along the way, I made friends.

Because my mother’s family is large and close-knit, the Belize connection emerged over the years as the stronger of the two. My American grandmother died in the late 1980s (my grandfather died shortly after I was born) and my father has no siblings. So, after we cleared out and sold the Menominee house, there was little reason to return. Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the town is not exactly on the way to or from many places.

Enter Facebook! A yearbook photo posted on Friday by former classmate John Militello (who, like many Menominee folks, no longer lives there) was a fond reminder: It feels good to know that Menominee people, like Belize people, remember me. For all my traveling and career-ing, I am moved and comforted to know that there are memories that connect me to places in the heart.


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Black History Month: 7 things to celebrate, circa 2015

Posted by Holly Edgell on February 1, 2015

There is still far too much to despair about when it comes to matters of race in the United States of America. Turns out, the scars of slavery are still at the scab stage–healing but liable to bleed and get infected when irritated.

Still, there is cause for hope. Popular culture, which reflects much of what we are thinking and doing, is full of examples that I interpret as progress.

As a start, here are 7:

1 — Black beauty. As a teen poring over fashion magazines, I would never have imagined we would see a woman of color as “the face” of a makeup brand. Today, it’s no big deal: Queen Latifah and Halle Berry, for example. Dark-skinned women, gracing award show red carpets, are also gracing magazine fashion spreads: Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o.

2 — Network TV. Two of the most successful current prime time shows star black women: Scandal, featuring Kerry Washington. How to Get Away With Murder, featuring Viola Davis. Both shows are on ABC, which has turned over its entire Thursday night lineup to a producer who happens to be a black woman, Shonda Rhimes. ABC also airs Black-ish, a very funny family sitcom, starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson.

Tracee Ellis Ross is awesome on Instagram--especially as alter ego, #TMurda.

Tracee Ellis Ross is awesome on Instagram–especially as alter ego, #TMurda.

3 — Comedy. If you have not yet discovered the hilarity of Key & Peele, do so. Today. Now. Their sketches poke fun at racial and cultural themes in a way that reminds us that laughter is often the best medicine (see healing metaphor above). Both men have black fathers and white mothers, which I think gives them the credibility that makes their show (Comedy Central) so awesome.

4 — We have a black president, folks. Okay, this is not exactly a pop culture reference. But, Barack Obama’s impact on our society is manifest.

5 – We have a black Kid President, folks. Robby Novak, 11, is an Interest star. The SoulPancake channel on YouTube, where Robby’s videos live, has nearly 1.5 million subscribers. His video “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You” (2013), has garnered about 35,000,000 views.

6. Natural hair styles. Increasingly, black women and men are wearing their hair however they want. Many employers no longer look askance at people who sport Afros, braids, twists, and locs. And, there are more products available for black hair period–whether natural or chemically treated.

Look, ma! No relaxer. Me, with my hair in twists. (Dec. 2012)

Look, ma! No relaxer. Me, with my hair in twists. (Dec. 2012)

7. Oprah. Love her or not, she uses her powers for good–in a way that crosses racial and ethnic lines.


What signs of progress do you see when it comes to race and class in the United States?

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