Narcissism: Needless, necessary, or just nasty?


As I browsed through our next-to-last reading assignment in T505, my eyes almost jumped with glee when I happened upon our esteemed professor’s 10th “key concept” within his synthesis of media work.

It’s an “oldie-but-a-goodie,” folks. It’s the Narcissism of Minor Differences [echo voice].

Goodness, gracious, sakes alive. When you stop and think about it, what would our lives be like without this little annoying gem to brighten our formerly 9-to-5 – but nowadays, just about anytime – work-a-day world? It’s actually kind of hard to imagine. For example, how many marriages might be worse off without such chicanery to prompt end-of-the-workday discussion — and bring beleaguered couples ever closer together?

Q [Wife]: “How was your day, dear?”

A [Hubby]: “Dammit, Larry’s up to his old tricks again, trying to horn-in on some of my sales contacts. How ‘bout yours?”

Q [Wife]: “If I see Barbara slip one more note to that new vice president in the middle of a teleconference, I swear I’m gonna barbecue her …”

You get the picture. It’s good ol’ fashioned attention getting. It’s not quite the same as being original [like figuring out a story angle that your competition did not and having that story picked up nationally]. Nor is it being known as a person having special insight into an issue [such as having considerable institutional knowledge with a particular beat or issue].

Simply put, it is the ability to be LOUD. The “vuvuzela” of the workplace. The ability make the squeaky wheel “squeak” so somebody important might turn their head to see which wheel is squeaking.

Whether quality, innovative, or effective work comes from said wheel may or may not be the case. Sometimes it does. Usually it does not. The harsh reality of the modern working world is – with editors, managers, and supervisors being pulled so many different ways to serve those above them – many times they lack the luxury of time to assess the quality or proficiency of work that come from individual employees.

Instead, they’re more apt to turn to the brightest light in the room and tell it: “Way to shine there, light! Way to shine!” … and then go about their business.

One of the underrated aspects of this all-too-real phenomenon is some of the debilitating effects it can have on an organization’s workplace:

a). It often wreaks havoc on activities that require teamwork – for example, coverage of a major news event – for fear that one member of the team will try to upstage other members who worked just as hard or harder.

b). It often misleads the “powers that be” into thinking the strength of their workforce lies in particular “loud” people, when it actually lies in other “no-nonsense” types who are a lot more focused on getting the job done than calling attention to themselves.

c). In some cases, the inner-office jealousies fomented by such “oneupsmanship” can lead to a polarized workplace in almost every aspect [not just critical situations], resulting in activities as serious as plagiarism, theft, sabotage, or corporate espionage.

The dynamics of narcissism is a topic that, in my opinion, one could probably write multiple books about. Within my own career in journalism – an industry that is among the most political there is when it comes to internal politics – I have witnessed all manner of narcissistic practice, all done in an effort to try to stand out in a competitive environment:

  • There was the recent [at the time] graduate of a certain Big 10 university’s very prestigious journalism school who, almost each time he got into a contentious conversation with a source on the telephone, would double or even triple the volume of his voice so editors could hear how “aggressive” a reporter he was. He rose quickly in the ranks, yet curiously never stayed at any newspaper more than about two years or so. For him it was all about climbing. Eventually he was hired at a national newspaper, but again only stayed for a couple of years. At last report, he was working in PR – rarely the finish line for the type of “aggressive” reporter he often emulated.
  • For one talented colleague of mine who worked at another office within my newspaper, actions taken by some of his “narcissistic” colleagues actually reached the point where – when he worked on a major story – he got into the habit of burying it under 10 to 15 inches of wire copy in his computer file [and printing a hard copy as a backup] so that “prying eyes” could not pick it out and delete his work. At the time, reporters worked on an “open” computer system and could actually go through other reporters’ files if they wished! Apparently, such incidents had occurred with him twice before …
  • At another newspaper I worked at, one of the more remarkable things I noticed was how management implemented policies that, at least in part, were designed to minimize “narcissistic” activity. One such policy was a prohibition on blogging about whatever subject you happened to be covering or writing about. Of course, part of this is solid journalistic ethics – you should never be in the business of opining about the subject you should be objectively reporting about. But another reason was to prevent, or at least discourage, reporters from calling too much attention to themselves and emphasize individuals over the work he or she does.

So, what examples of “minor narcissistic differences” do you have to share?

— Bill W. Hornaday

No Responses Yet to “Narcissism: Needless, necessary, or just nasty?”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: