Leadership Report 2011 - Knight-McCormick leadership programs

KDMC program evolved as newsroom leadership challenges grew

News leaders face a dizzying array of choices about how to best shape a digital strategy, how to navigate tricky organizational sandpits as they implement it, and how to adjust and reset their tactics each time a new innovation or a new cutback hits.

In the face of these challenges, many bring to the task remarkable energy, creativity and determination, born of their passion for news.

Since 2007, Knight Digital Media Center at University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism has worked with four classes for more than 100 leaders through its Knight-McCormick leadership and digital strategy programs.

The program has served primarily top editors from local newspaper organizations and their digital deputies, as well as representatives of the revenue side. The 2010-11 program expanded to include leaders of broadcast organizations and online news start ups.

Funding for the leadership programs was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

The experiences of the KDMC leadership fellows bring into view key practices of leaders who are negotiating the challenging transition from the traditional news organization - with all of its baggage - to the new news organization - with all of its unknowns.

This report highlights their stories about what they are learning about effective transformational leadership. Their stories also open a window into what their bosses and parent organizations have done - or failed to do - to help them chart a path to the future.

Initially the program sought to open fellows to possibilities and opportunities of digital news as well as the urgency to transform.

“The KDMC program was a landmark event in the evolution of the newsroom of The Seattle Times,” said executive editor David Boardman, a 2008 fellow. “We were moving along, and after that, we were turbocharged. KDMC clarified things and helped us understand the direction we needed to go.”

In 2009 and in 2010-11, fellows were required to develop specific projects related to the strategies of their organizations.

Sacramento Connect, a thriving network of local blogs, was one of the 2009 projects. “It wouldn’t have turned out as much of a success if it hadn’t been for the Knight training. It forced thinking that wasn’t in our normal frame,” said Melanie Sill, then editor of The Sacramento Bee.

But the project-focused efforts were not without challenges. As leadership fellows implemented their plans, with coaching and support from KDMC, it became clear that internal obstacles could undermine their efforts.

A survey of 2010 fellows yielded a long list of such challenges. A sampling:  a persistent lack of basic digital literacy in their organizations, difficulty keeping the organization focused amid downsizing, organizational silos and fiefdoms that resisted change, rigid corporate IT templates that prevented them from keeping up with digital developments, forging partnerships and managing citizen contributions.

This report explores best practices that these leaders used to successfully produce change against this backdrop.

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Leadership Report 2011

ABOUT THIS REPORT

Michele McLellan

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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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