Media Magazine

Reverse Mentorship and the Newsroom: a Win Win

Posted on the 15 September 2016 by Themarioblog @garciainteract

When Phyllis Korkki, a New York Times assignment editor, wanted to learn about visual storytelling via Snapchat, the smart-phone based photo and video service that is popular among teenagers and young adults——she sought help from the Times’ resident Snapchat expert, Talya Minsberg, 27.

So, unlike the traditional relationship of the experienced journalist in her mid 50s with the latest arrival in the newsroom, here the roles were reversed, and Ms. Minsberg, whose job did not even exist a few years ago, proceeded to teach Ms. Korkki about the basics of a new form of video storytelling.

Ms. Korkki’s described her experienced in a piece for the Times, titled What Could I Possibly Learn From a Mentor Half My Age? Plenty​


Wanted: young co-pilot

The collaboration between the two Times’ journalists from very different generations proves a point that I have experienced myself.

When our industry began to move more in the direction of everything digital, I knew I needed a co-pilot to help me guide the ship through challenging and fascinating times.  I wanted that co-pilot to have an essential qualification: he/she did not remember life before Google.

My first co-pilot was Reed Reibstein, whom I had discovered at Yale University when he was an 18-year-old freshman.  He became my intern almost immediately and stayed in that role through graduation. After graduating, he worked with me for another four-and-a-half years, for almost eight years in total! 

During that time, Reed, as my co pilot, helped me understand the ways of everything digital, doing a terrific job of editing and designing my first digital book, Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet.  Reed was also the teaching assistant by my side for the course I teach at Columbia University’s School of JournalismMultiplatform Design & Storytelling.

When Reed left to pursue his interests with American City Business Journals, where he is now Product Design Manager , I was lucky to find Andy Rossback, editorial designer and the genius behind some of the best visual storytelling for the Marshall Project.  Andy and I get together often for what I call “mini workshops” in which we explore my many questions, while I, too, reverse to the role of the traditional mentor to explain things to the 26 year old Andy. He will be my teaching assistant at Columbia this spring.


Why reverse mentorships are essential

In her piece, Ms. Korkki mentions that the reversal of roles for mentors is not limited to newsrooms and that such companies as Cisco Systems, Target and United Health Group are already putting the practice of reverse mentorship into place.

She cites that millennials, particularly, are “natural consultants”, having helped their parents navigate through the ever changing technology.

I always try to coordinate mentorship pairs when I consult with my clients.  It does not come naturally and it is not so easy for a person of a certain age to accept that someone half his age can teach them something.

Yet, in today’s environment, especially in the newsroom, reverse mentorships are a direct way to make sure that the experience and knowledge of the older person does not get lost, while bringing to the front the natural technical skills and life experiences of the young, for whom all things digital come naturally.

You will be surprised how beneficial it will feel for both and for the publication in which they work.


TheMarioBlog post # 2489
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