What We’ve Learned: People Come First.

In the last of a series on lessons from the Stry.us Springfield bureau, founder Dan Oshinsky explains why putting together a great team — and giving them a support system — matters most.

story by Dan Oshinsky
published September 6, 2012

Dan Oshinsky

About six months ago, I put a job posting online for reporters for Stry.us. I had already locked down the housing for the entire team, even though at that point only Jordan and I had committed to Springfield. I had four reporting slots — and four bedrooms — to fill.

The very first person to apply for a job at Stry.us was a jazz singer. She was from Arkansas, and she knew the region, and she was interested in writing.

I got very nervous. I had committed to hiring four reporters, and I was suddenly very worried that I was going to be putting together a team that knew more about musical scales than paragraph structure.

Luckily for me — and for Springfield — we ended up finding a truly capable team. I owe so much to them: To Jordan, for being the first on board, and to Bari, Roman, Sarah and Zach for coming along for the ride.

A project like this cannot happen on paper. All the planning in the world doesn’t matter if your team isn’t any good. To pull together great stories and projects, you need a great team.

Yes, ideas matter. Yes, funding matters.

But foremost, your team matters. Exceptional projects don’t come from average teams.

The success of this project this summer stems entirely from this team, and from the work and energy they threw into it. This summer, I learned:

When Hiring a Great Team, Be Specific — The job posting for Stry.us was pretty ambiguous, and for a good reason: I wanted a team that was adventurous and curious. This job wasn’t for everyone. I wanted people with a background in storytelling — specifically in long-form narratives. I was looking for great listeners and for certain skills, like data reporting or editing backgrounds experience. All of that helped us immediately weed out reporters who simply wouldn’t have been a good fit for the type of reporting we did this summer.

Support Your Team — And do it in three ways:

1. With tools: They’ll need the right technology and equipment to do the work. We had four DLSR cameras, a long list of tech resources and the full Adobe suite at our disposal. Pretty much anything we wanted to do, we could do.

2. With time: Reporting projects don’t happen immediately. Jordan and I had to be patient enough to let the reporters find and deliver on stories.

3. With opportunities: They needed the freedom to investigate big stories, and they needed to be comfortable enough with Jordan and I to actually pitch them. That required us to create a culture at Stry.us that welcomed ambitious and unusual stories.

Let Them Try, Try Again — When something went wrong, we tried to give our reporters as many opportunities as we could to make it right. Stories got weird. Stories got complex. But wanted them to try and try again until we did the story as best we could.

I’m only now starting to take a look back on the summer and to figure out what we just accomplished. Whatever I find, I know this: It’ll be thanks to this incredible band of reporters that gave everything they had to Stry.us this summer.