Leadership Report 2011- Best practice #5

5. Be a catalyst

News organizations that have been particularly successful at their journalism often were the most insulated from digital opportunities; they were slow to see the need to embrace a new media environment.

Such was The Sacramento Bee when Melanie Sill arrived as editor in 2007. Sill had already made the leap to digital thinking as editor of The News and Observer of Raleigh, N.C. In Sacramento, she quickly saw that she would need to be a catalyst in her newsroom.

Melanie Sill

“At the Bee, I had to start at a much more basic level than we were in Raleigh. They still had a small online team, and only they did the online stuff. I had to figure out a way to get everyone to think about it,” Sill said.

For example, “I recall asking people to do a Google map of storms in the area and people didn’t know how, but they did it and they saw the value. This stuff isn’t just something nerdy people do in some corner.

“I found myself in the position of saying, ‘Hey, look at this. Look at how this newsroom covers this story with that tool. What if we did that?’ ” Sill said. “Trying to bring a culture of what’s possible was rewarding.”

Sill looked for allies who could help her move the digital agenda forward.

“I immediately identified other people in the room who were like-minded and were interested in what’s happening on the Web, who’s using social media. I found two young reporters who were using a lot of data mining on their own; they were some early allies. I tried to put people in a position to just do things, not necessarily going through editors. I just tried to support people who were already doing things.”

Sill also used a survey - asking about coverage and what was holding the newsroom back - to identify potential allies. “I got a very strong response. I started emailing with people and talking to people and meeting with them based on those results.”

Sills participated in the 2009 leadership program, which focused on social media strategy for news organizations. Befitting her place as an early adopter, Sill led development of Sacramento Connect, a network of local blogs that has burgeoned and started to produce revenue. (See “Leadership fellows learn to connect with social media” for more details.)

“Advertising people seemed to get the idea,” Sill said. “The traffic was good and also started generating revenue, which created a lot of credibility in the organization.”

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Leadership Report 2011


Michele McLellan

This report was written by Michele McLellan, a journalist and consultant who works on projects that help foster a healthy local news ecosystem. As senior leadership consultant for [email protected], McLellan helped develop KDMC leadership programs in 2008-2011. She also blogs about key leadership best practices at Leadership 3.0.

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Leadership Report 2011

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