January 25, 2012

Team Spirit

An hour before deadline I opened the computer file to check the front-page headlines. But one article—an analysis—stumped me. After reading it through, I still had no idea what the headline should be. The analysis seemed to go in every direction. I realized that Larisa, its author, would not succeed as a newspaper reporter.
Larisa,* a Russian national, offered many surprises. The first came when she submitted a promising résumé; a subsequent reference check yielded high praise. I promised Larisa that I would help her succeed in her first full-time job at an English-language newspaper.
The next surprise disappointed me. Four months into the job Larisa demanded a raise. While I sympathized with her need to repay her U.S. university loans, I also explained that salaries are tied to performance and length of employment. We agreed to a salary review at the six-month mark of her employment. Over the next two months Larisa took off several weeks for sick leave, even missing our scheduled salary review.
2012 1503 page29When she returned, still determined to secure a raise, I instead gave her a list of areas in which she needed to improve, promised to edit more of her stories, and instructed other editors to assist her.
As the months passed, Larisa showed incremental improvement. But her learning curve remained far behind that of other reporters.
Days before Larisa’s one-year anniversary I sat at the computer, trying to make sense of her front-page analysis. The article remained unbaked, even though it had gone through five rewrites with two editors. After rereading the article, I quickly reorganized the paragraphs and rewrote the top fourth. We finished the newspaper 10 minutes after deadline.
The next day Larisa stormed into my office, furious with the changes. She stewed as I explained my rewrite. Online readers, meanwhile, seemed to like the final product, with the analysis soaring to the top of our Web site’s most-read list.
But was the article worth the effort? I didn’t think so. Larisa’s tirade irritated me. One editor put my thoughts to words: Larisa wasn’t cut out for newspaper journalism.
I prayed for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom. I wanted the best newspaper team; but I didn’t want to let Larisa go after investing so much time and energy. I could hire a better reporter for similar pay; but if I dismissed Larisa, her severance package would prevent me from hiring a replacement for several months. Most important, I wanted to reflect Jesus in my actions.
As I rode the bus to work the next day, a short passage caught my eye in Ellen White’s Testimonies for the Church: “Nothing is gained by moving hurriedly, moving from impulse, or from strong feeling” (vol. 2, p. 51). I remembered Larisa. Fine, I thought, I can wait a week to make sure I am not acting out of strong feelings.
An hour later Larisa walked into my office and pulled up a chair. “When you hired me a year ago, you promised to make me the best reporter possible,” she said. “I think you have succeeded.”
I sucked in my breath and prayed. Larisa must have remembered that I had hired her exactly a year earlier, and now she wanted a raise.
“In fact,” she said, “you’ve done such a good job training me that I have been offered a job elsewhere that I couldn’t refuse.”
As she spoke, all I could think was: Praise God! I don’t have to fire her!
Larisa looked surprised when I finally found my tongue and offered my congratulations. I told her that I was proud of her. I am. I know newspaper journalism isn’t her strength. Maybe she will find her calling with her new employer, a major international news agency.
As Larisa stood up, she told me that the new job especially excited her because the news agency’s Moscow bureau consisted of former reporters from our newspaper. “I didn’t want to leave our team, and now I won’t have to,” she said, smiling broadly.
I matched her smile. It’s great to be on the Holy Spirit’s team!
* Name has been changed.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist in Russia. This article was published January 26, 2012.