News Leadership 3.0

May 17, 2009

‘The thing we’re losing is far from perfect’

USC Annenberg journalism director Overholser offers 10 important observations about journalism today

Geneva Overholser opened Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp Saturday with a terrific list of 10 observations about journalism. No. 3 resonated most with me. Here’s the full list:

1. “It’s the public. It’s the public, stupid.” Journalists need to hold themselves “accountable for the impact of what we do on the public.”

2. “Reinforcements are on the way” in the form of smart, creative students who are dedicated to journalism.

3. “The thing we’re losing is far from perfect.” The news industry “left out wide swaths of the community,” including women and people of color. “We didn’t listen. We created false equivalencies.”

4. “We need to keep the principles, not the rules.” And the last principle standing must be transparency.

5. “There are lots of legitimate ways of doing journalism.”

6. With props to Clay Shirky: “Nothing will work but everything might.”

7. Find ways to collaborate. Focus on what only your news organization can do.

8. Communities do need journalism. Play a leadership role in the community

9. “We are not alone.” Others, such as the film industry, are struggling with the changing media dynamics.
10. Help others report information, including non-governmental organizations on the frontlines.

Overholser closed with an admonition for those who are discussing the future of journalism:

“Resist the urge to pronounce. This is not a duel. It should be a debate about the next steps for journalism in the public interest.”

Overholser is Director of the School of Journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication. KDMC is partnering with the USC Marshall School of Business and the Online Journalism Review to provide the intensive week long boot camp for more than a dozen journalists who are developing online news and information projects.

 

May 07, 2009

The 4th C: Culture

In a guest post, Steve Buttry discusses what C3, his Complete Community Connection news model, will mean for the culture of his organization

Steve Buttry, information content conductor for The Gazette Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recently released his “Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection,” and wrote a couple of good blog posts (here and here) about his ambitious plan for revolutionizing his news organization. I asked Steve to write an additional piece for this blog with a focus on what attitudes would need to change for his organization to be successful. As a longtime student of newsroom culture, I think it’s important for newsroom leaders to develop culture change strategies that are in step with their content change strategies. Here’s what Steve had to say:

By Steve Buttry
A newsroom leader’s most important job today is changing a culture you love.
I love working in newsrooms. I love the energy, the fun, the humor, the skepticism. They are my favorite places to work. And they need to change.
As I outlined in my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, newspaper companies need a thorough change in our relationship with the community and in how we operate.
For most of my career in newsrooms, most of my colleagues were oblivious to most of the business considerations that paid our paychecks. We just wanted to do great journalism: tell stories, cover the news, uphold the honor of the First Amendment.
We can do all that. And we must. But we also have to lead a transformation of our companies and our industry, starting in the newsroom. In the C3 blueprint, I tackle several issues that traditionally haven’t been newsroom concerns:
Revenue. Journalists have enjoyed our insulation from the actual generation of the revenue that supports our work. I am not suggesting we jeopardize our integrity by actually selling ads or dealing with advertisers, but we have to advocate and work to achieve a new revenue approach to support journalism. The failure of our leaders and advertising colleagues to develop a new business model has caused too much harm to journalism. Waiting for someone else to innovate hasn’t worked. We can and must engage in the how of revenue generation, even if we have to keep our distance from the who.
Evergreen information. Our business model for decades has focused on providing timely information for our community. We need to continue that, but also become the place where the community turns for timeless information. We can add value to our work by using our archives to provide context and by developing community content that remains useful and brings people back again and again to a helpful community resource.
Personal news. From my first days in a newsroom, as a high school student covering sports in Shenandoah, Iowa, the jading process began as I scorned the “locals” that the Evening Sentinel published about people who were visiting, ill or retiring, and the formulaic announcements of engagements. But as an adult, I know that the personal events that barely make the newspapers, if at all, are big news in people’s lives. As I look back on recent years in my family, the huge events are a son’s wedding or graduation or a nephew’s illness. The C3 blueprint calls on us to provide personal-content platforms where people can turn these life milestones into the big news that they truly are.
Achieving success in these new pursuits (especially in a time of staff reductions) will require several changes in how newsrooms traditionally operate:
* We need to engage the community and let people tell more stories themselves. Where our reporting amounts mostly to gathering quotes from officials and participants, we should provide platforms where those people can tell those stories directly to the community. This will allow us to spend more of our resources telling the stories that officials don’t want us to tell.
* We need to separate content from products, at least in our minds and probably in our organizations. If you speak of stories in terms of inches, you are thinking of stories through the frame of the print product.
* We need to provide links to helpful information that adds depth and context, even if we didn’t publish it. News sites have been reluctant to send users away from our sites, as if that would somehow keep them captive. Google developed the most successful business in the history of the Internet by sending people away. We need to do the same. As Jeff Jarvis says: “Cover what you do best and link to the rest.”
When I was the editor of the Minot (N.D.) Daily News in the early 1990s, my attention focused heavily on the next edition of the paper or the next Sunday’s paper. I always knew what stories the staff was working on and what stories would be on Page One. When I came to Cedar Rapids last year as editor of The Gazette, I fell into the same pattern as a historic flood in my first week overwhelmed our city. I quickly learned that my staff could handle the biggest disaster in our state’s history. So I stepped back to let others handle the day-to-day challenges of covering the news.
My job was changing the culture and helping us find a prosperous future. I started the staff liveblogging events ranging from Black Friday shopping to federal trials to Hawkeye football. We began thinking about telling the story as it unfolded, rather than simply taking notes and telling it later.
I pushed my staff to use Twitter to connect with the community, gather news, write tighter and promote our content. We started engaging routinely with the community.
As the pace of change accelerated, we changed my title (to information content conductor), in part to reflect new realities and in part to underscore to the staff that all our jobs will fundamentally change.
We have a long way to go. And I think our staff will enjoy working in whatever our newsroom becomes. Much as we loved what was, we know we need to reach what will be if we want to continue having fun in this business. 

April 29, 2009

An ambition to change

At Gazette Communications, Steve Buttry’s blueprint for a community news organization seeks to reshape roles and goals

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Steve Buttry’s “Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection” is its ambition.

At a time when energy, resources and innovation are in short supply in the news industry, many news organizations play defense or nibble around the edges of change as best they can.

Despite cutbacks and layoffs and the aftermath of massive flooding in the past year, The Gazette blueprint describes a radical shift in thinking about the role of the news organization and the jobs it will do.

It takes the often-articulated and usually lofty goals of community journalism and marries them with specifics about practice and potential business models. It marks an auspicious beginning for an ambitious and worthwhile experiment.

A few headlines:

-“For consumers, we will be their essential connection to community life - news, information, commerce, social lfe. LIke many Internet users turn first to Google, whatever their need, we want Eastern Iowans to turn first to Gazette Communications, whatever their need. For busiensses, we will be their essential connection to customers, often making the sale and collecting the money. We will become the Complete Community Connection.”
Finally, a news organization that will emulate Google’s considerable success on a local level.

- “News remains essential to our mission and our identity, but cannot limit our vision. We do need to add to our information content storehouse daily with news and other information, some of it perishable but much of it evergreen. We need to be a portal through which you can easily reach any information or activities in the community.”
Finally, recognition that information on demand is as important to consumers as today’s headlines.

- “Content and revenue must be planned together, so any innovation plan must address both needs.” And “Journalists can protect our integrity and still collaborate in developing a new business model.”
Finally, a willingness to partner with the revenue side while finding ways to maintain journalistic independence in service to the public.

Buttry, a veteran of the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project, has the title of Information Content Conductor (a recent switch from editor). His community content plan incorporates key features of Newspaper Next.

But his vision for the Gazette is more community-focused, less about delivering a particular product and more about connecting and re-connecting the multiple facets of community—the social, the business, the civic.

I hope the plan evolves and grows in Cedar Rapids. I hope it bolsters the ambition of other local news organizations as well.

I am still digesting the 30-page blueprint so these are just initial thoughts. I’ve also asked Steve to share his thoughts on the cultural and attititudinal changes this blueprint will require in his newsroom. More on that next week.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the full Complete Community Connection blueprint.

March 24, 2009

Seeing the newspaper from outside the newsroom

Carla Savalli says six months as a reader rather than an editor dramatically changed her perspective on the daily newspaper and how people get news

Carla Savalli, a former assistant managing editor who left the Spokesman-Review in Spokane in October, says her time away from the newsroom has upended the way she views the daily newspaper.

“They are essentially outdated and irrelevant by the time they’re delivered. If given another chance, I’d never edit a paper the same way again,” Savalli told me recently. The discovery, she said, is “startling. It’s not a comfortable revelation at first.”

“Now that I’m a reader and not a journalist, I’m much more interested in what information I need and I care less about the proprietary nature of it. I don’t care so much about who’s giving me information. I want to know that it’s valuable and accurate information. There’s got to be a place to capitalize on the franchise of being accurate and in the know, but not on we brought you this story first,” Savalli said.

Savalli isn’t the first to leave a newsroom and find new perspective (it happened to me seven years ago), but it’s instructive to hear the message fresh. Savalli, who wants to return to newsroom management, says it’s based on looking at newspapers in general, not the Spokane paper in particular.

“I’ve been paying attention how we absorb news and information. Newspapers do not control the flow of information anymore. By the time I get my newspaper I have learned about 90 percent of what’s in that paper someplace else. I’ve read it on the newspaper Web site, picked it up on the national news or I’ve picked it up on the street. I’ve been more aware of informal listening posts in the community, like doctor’s office or social groups, places where information is circulated.”

That perspective may not be obtainable within the newsroom
. “I don’t think it’s possible to really get it inside the newsroom. It’s not possible to see an alternative until you get on the outside, because then you’re not intensely aware of every nuance of the story. (In the newsroom,) you think you’ve got the scoop.”

“The Web and 24/7 cable really DO have an advantage over print but print journalists can’t see that when they’re immersed in it.”

Savalli’s ideas for local newspapers organizations:
- Move away from commodity news, the news that people can find all over the place
- Drop national and international news, which people can find online or on television.
- Redefine the newspaper niche product for local news. “Focus on what’s intensely local.”
- Reshape newsroom thinking about what people need to know. “Change the notion that we know what people should know.”
- Redefine the role of gatekeeper to one of a guide to information online.

A news organization must become “more of a proponent of information and news and not so much a proponent of our brand and process,” Savalli said.  “We need to give people more, not less.”

“I’d advise print leaders to take the best of our traditions - the critical thinking skills and news gathering skills and source building - and apply that to the Web and ditch all the other conventions of the craft,” she said. “Yes, the business model needs to be fixed, as does the general economy, but journalists (the real ones) are more important than ever.”

“We don’t need to redefine journalism in order to compete or survive. We need to redefine our work flow, not our values or news judgment. If it really is about delivering and interpreting information, then we must be platform agnostic mercenaries. Serve readers wherever they are. Period.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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