Scarvey column: Understanding newsroom personalities
By Katie Scarvey
When I read Lisa Earle McLeod’s column about the Myers-Brigg test (see column at right) it made me curious. I’ve taken versions of the famous personality test several times, with slightly different results.
It makes sense that certain personality types would gravitate to certain careers. And maybe investing in a little testing can prevent us from taking the wrong career path.
Years ago I worked in the corporate office of a huge insurance company in Hartford, Conn. The woman who hired me said, “I have to warn you that I don’t think you’re going to like this job, but if you really want it, I’ll hire you.
Unfortunately, she was absolutely right. While I enjoyed my co-workers and didn’t mind the cubicle culture, the mind-numbingly detail-oriented nature of my job, which involved not one speck of creativity, drove me to despair. If I hadn’t been teaching some SAT preparation classes on the side I might have thrown myself off a cliff.
I wondered if they would be any similarities among my co-workers at the Post, so I sent out an email asking if they’d indulge me and take an online personality test (the same one McLeod references).
One thing that might surprise people is that — if you can extrapolate my results at the Salisbury Post — newsrooms are not chock full of extroverts. I tallied only two extroverts out of 15 or so people in the newsroom who took the test. This not what you’d expect from the general population, in which about three of four are extroverts.
So how can we introverts do our jobs effectively if we have to communicate with people to gather information?
Several people mentioned that the reporter role — and the notebook or camera that goes along with it — allowed them to do interviews and take pictures in a way that might normally be out of their comfort zone.
Andy Mooney, a photographer and graphic designer who scored very high on the introvert scale, noted that the camera gave him license to be more of an extrovert than he normally would be.
Three people in the newsroom were very strongly intraverted. One is Chris Verner, who was unsurprised by his ISTJ profile, particularly the introvert part of it.
“My top three career paths would be: forest ranger, lighthouse keeper, clam,” Chris wrote me in an email after we had a little dialogue about his type.
I told him I could definitely see him in a lighthouse reading Melville. He countered by saying that he pictured himself as a lighthouse keeper trying to figure out why the gas-powered generator was on the fritz again. Well, I can picture that, too.
The two certified extraverts in the newsroom are Shavonne Potts and Emily Ford. They are both ESFJs, who are sometimes labelled the hosts and hostesses, or caregivers, of the 16 types. No surprise then that when our photo interns were finishing their stint at the Post it was Shavonne who organized a pot-luck lunch, and I’m pretty sure Emily was the first to chime in that it was a good idea. Predictable.
Emily had the strongest extrovert score at 89, which is probably not surprising to those who know her. Emily is friendly, outgoing and genuinely interested in people. Let’s see; who does she remind me of?
Oh yeah, my daughter Quinn, also an ESFJ with an E score of 89. She is the lone extrovert in my immediate family and truly does not like to be alone. Unlike my introvert daughter Spencer, who might call from college every week or two, Quinn typically calls at least once a day.
Quinn is the one who will go for a walk and be back two hours later because she “met some people.”
But back to the newsroom.
Not only were most people introverted, six of them — almost half — tested as ISTJs (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking Judging). It’s true that there are more ISTJs in the population (maybe 10-15 percent) than any other profile of the 16, but in the newsroom, they comprise almost half, including columnist Mark Wineka and editor Elizabeth Cook.
ISTJs are traditionalists. They have strong sense of right and wrong and are devoted to duty. They’re punctual, and you can count on them. They might sometimes seem aloof; being warm and fuzzy is against type for ISTJs.
I am familiar with the ISTJ because I married one.
Based on who sent their responses to me and when, I’m going to assume that ISTJs are more likely to do tasks immediately rather than putting them off. Thank you, newsroom ISTJs, for your promptness.
Christopher L. Crowell, not technically part of the newsroom but an IT pro on the same floor, reported a very different profile — ENTP. Those of us who know him might agree with this description: “ENTPs have little patience with those they consider wrongheaded or unintelligent, and show little restraint in demonstrating this.”
Photographer Jon Lakey was the only ISFJ in the group, and when I read the characteristics of his type — “perceptive of others’ feeings,” “quiet, kind and conscientious,” I could definitely see how Jon fit this category. If all ISFJs are like Jon, I’m pretty sure the world could use some more.
My own type, INFJ, while pretty unusual in the general population, was shared by Deirdre Parker Smith and Sarah Campbell.
Post publisher Greg Anderson was a good sport and also took the test. Far from the methodical ISTJs that dominate the newsroom, he tested as an ENFJ, pretty close to my own type, except for the extraversion, which definitely puts him in the charismatic leader category.
As responses filtered in, it became clear that most of us up here are “judgers” as opposed to “perceivers.” Only three people tested as “perceiver.” Again, this is definitely a smaller proportion than what one would expect with the population as a whole.
The term “judging” might not mean what you think.
Judgers tend to appreciate structure and planning and like to take charge of their environment and plan early. At work, they make decisions easily and then follow up.
For perceivers, structure can be limiting. They like to keep options open and make choices only when necessary.
It’s not surprising, then, that a newsroom is full of “judgers.” Our world is about deadlines and production. Structure is what keeps us getting the paper out 365 days a year.
Not surprisingly, the few P’s in the newsroom were among the last to respond to my query, which makes sense because as I understand it, “perceivers” tend to want to keep options open — which can lead to a lot of procrastinating.
I did score as a judger, but it was a very weak preference. I can make decisions easily at work; it’s my personal life where I like to keep options open, to a fault. Christmas travel plans? Why do I need to worry about those in November?
Many of us marry someone with a different personality profile than our own. In fact, perhaps you can argue that introverts should marry extroverts because they balance each other so nicely. It can present challenges when one partner is significantly more extraverted than the other, craving social interaction while the other would rather be at home watching “The Deadliest Catch.” Ahem.
Of course no personality type is better than any other. It is possible for our tendancies to change somewhat over the years — I edged into extroversion while my kids were small — but most people find that their results are fairly consistent over time.
Thanks to my colleagues for being such good sports about my little experiment.
If you’d like to take a free test to determine your personality type, go to www.humanmetrics.com and click on Jung Typology Test.