Mentoring relationship works both ways
Mentor/mentee pair helped each other during NEX GEN program
Shannon Casas grew up south of Gainesville, Ga., went to Berry College in Rome and was happy to stay close to home by joining The Times in Gainesville after graduation. Promoted in February to managing editor at the age of 32, Casas used her time in SNPA's NEX GEN mentoring program to expand her horizons.
Casas was paired with Barbara Hough Roda, executive editor of LNP and LancasterOnline, part of LNP Media Group Inc. in Lancaster, Pa.
Like Casas, Roda is a career employee of the same newspaper company, having spent 34 years in Lancaster beginning as a part-time general assignment reporter.
"I really feel like, if I could help somebody avoid some of the mistakes and missteps that I've made, I'm more than happy to do that," said Roda.
"I did talk with her pretty candidly about things that we've done here that have gone well and things that we've done that haven't gone so well. I think we're all kind of trying to find our way through a changing landscape."
But when Casas visited Lancaster for a week, the mentee returned the favor. Casas sat in on news meetings and with reporters and editors. By the second day, Casas was "making herself at home," Roda said, and her input proved helpful to the Lancaster staff.
For example, Lancaster at one time published three newspapers with three separate staffs, morning, afternoon and Sunday. That's changed, but the combined staff still numbers close to 100 in the newsroom with another 100 correspondents.
Casas, Roda said, "offered some really valuable insights about always being on top of communication and making sure that the decisions we're making here are funneling down in an appropriate and full way to staffers.
"Even though I was to be her mentor, I would say seeing things through her eyes and listening to things she had to say was actually helpful to me and my staff as well."
Casas, for her part, got a lot out of the trip. "Being in Lancaster was really interesting. It's kind of fun being a fly on the wall in another newsroom, especially because I haven't been in any others," she said.
Casas said Gainesville is a growing community and The Times, which circulates about 20,000 daily, is trying out new ideas. She sat with Lancaster's community engagement editor during her visit. The Times, with five news reporters, doesn't have the position, but when the newsroom's assistant left that job, Casas took the opportunity to revamp what was mainly a clerk's job to include some community engagement duties.
Roda visited Gainesville for a few days as well, which allowed her to become familiar with the community and The Times staffers. Casas said she was able to talk to Roda about personnel hires and promotions, and Roda could offer another perspective besides those of Casas' supervisors on those issues and others.
"I talked with her about dealing with things in the community," Casas said. "My boss doesn't live here. I've gotten, more recently, really involved with church and with people here, so that often we're covering topics and then I'm seeing these people in Sunday School. It's kind of new for me, and that was something she was more familiar with."
Both Casas and Roda advise other NEX GEN participants to take full advantage of the opportunities presented. Don't be afraid to ask questions via phone or email, or even to challenge the mentor, Roda said.
Casas said that early on during her trip to Lancaster, she found herself looking at email from Gainesville and realized that she could do that at home. So she put the email aside to concentrate on the reason she was in Pennsylvania.
"Make time to get what you can out of it," Casas said.
Read about additional NEX GEN participants' experiences:
Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at email@example.com.
Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.