Finding her voice
Looram’s theatrical interests were influenced by her mother, Mary Looram, who has acting credits in the new film “Like Father” and TV series “Orange Is the New Black.” But her leadership approach and management style are deeply influenced by her father's career.
James Looram is a West Point graduate and a Vietnam-era veteran with a doctorate in organizational behavior. For 30 years he has been a management and leadership consultant. The author of “Your Essential Self,” he has a leadership and management philosophy grounded in caring and respect for others and attentive listening. He believes it is fundamental for leaders to learn how to manage the tone of voice and be present in a very effective way. He says that his daughter intuitively does this.
“She listens to people and is supportive in a soft, caring way and also holds people’s feet to the fire,” Looram said. “She is quick to confront professionally. She looks at the process and how people are making decisions.”
It comes as no surprise to him that his daughter self-describes as an introvert.
“Meaghan has a calmness about her that can be misunderstood. Her calmness comes from being an observer,” he said. “Effective introverts are often described as shy, but they are usually not overly worried about how they come across.”
Meaghan Looram agreed.
“It’s an internal process. Introverts take a different approach,” she said. “It doesn't mean I’m not comfortable in social situations. Extroverts get more energy out of interactions. I get more energy out of time alone and synthesizing things.”
So how does one develop a voice in newsrooms where the culture typically rewards performance art in its meetings?
“It's good to develop an assertive voice, and the person representing the photo department has a seat at the table. It can be an intimidating room with smart and informed people who tend to be opinionated and outspoken, but that room, for me, remains a great place to learn how to give photography a voice, and that’s a really important quality for a photo editor.”
“We want to make sure we’re not perceived as the person there to decorate the story. I have always felt strongly about the ability to talk about pictures. In this environment, you’re often a little bit of a translator or diplomat between factions and populations.”
Maintaining a dynamic workplace
There are 40 photo editors at The New York Times, with four international picture editors – two in Hong Kong and two in London. Fifteen staff photographers and hundreds of independent photographers produce work for local, national and international stories. Photo editors are embedded on the desk they represent, which gives them visibility.
Given those resources, Looram said, they have the same pressures as other news outlets. Because the website supports publishing 10,000 to 15,000 pictures a month in addition to the needs of print, there is a newsroom priority to maintain high standards with a sharp picture-editing staff.
“When a workplace does not have that support, there is a difference — we can see a difference — in the quality of visual journalism when you don’t have that kind of support,” Looram said.
“In any operation, you’re going to find greater success if you build and support a gifted staff. The best thing I can do is create an environment so they can produce their best work. People do their best work when they feel supported and understood. I think the best journalists are empathetic, and a management style that is also empathetic is the right match for this profession.”
Emma Howells, one of three summer interns whose work landed on the front page multiple times, experienced this philosophy firsthand, saying she felt championed by Looram.
When Howells said she was sexually harassed while doing preliminary research on a story on her own time, Looram was accessible and approachable. “When I was sexually harassed, she reached out and was quick to address it instead of shrug it off. She was super welcoming to all the interns — all women this year.”
During the first photo staff meeting as director of photography in early August, Looram made clear her priority to increase the diversity of the photojournalists they assign and hire every day.
"As editors, we sit in very influential and privileged positions, and the broader the array of backgrounds and life experiences of those we choose to make photographs on assignment for us, the better and more representative our journalism is. One of my next tasks is to implement a more quantitative method of tracking our progress in this area," she said.
"It's a real priority of the Times in general, and (I am) excited to let people know that it is an explicit goal from a high level,” she said.
Meaghan Looram’s key points toward good leadership
Work on delivering feedback.
Too many photographers never hear a peep, good or bad, about how their work has been received. The photographer/editor relationship can be a huge growth and development opportunity for both parties, but only if there is honest and constructive conversation about the work, both before and after it is made.
Look after your people.
As an assigning editor, it’s on you to prioritize the well-being and safety of journalists you are sending into the field, and to set them up for success. It is your responsibility to think through every possible eventuality to best prepare them for the assignment.
Firmness and kindness are not incompatible.
Learn to talk about pictures.
The more articulate you can be about images, the better collaborator and director you can be for photographers, and the better you will be able to champion of their work in the newsroom.
Cultivate in yourself the ability to listen closely.
Operate with respect as the fundamental underpinning of all of your interactions. Be generous to your colleagues.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, then do the research.
It does no one any good to pretend knowledge, and it doesn’t make you look any less intelligent to acknowledge what you know and what you need to find out.