News Leadership 3.0

May 28, 2009

In search of an inner entrepreneur

Here are five steps to finding and cultivating potential entrepreneurs in your newsroom. Step 1: If you’re the boss, recognize that it’s not you.

KDMC’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp focused on journalists who want to start news and information businesses, for the most part one-person bands at least initially. As I noted earlier this week, journalists can indeed be entrepreneurs. The follow up question: Can traditional news organizations support entrepreneurs in their midst?

Here are five things that will help that happen:

1. Recognize that top bosses are not likely to be entrepreneurs, as worthy a goal as that may be. An executive can be entrepreneurial, and the job entails many of the same visioning and organizing roles that the entrepreneur must play. But the executive is unlikely to be in a position to assume the significant risks of entrepreneurship, especially if the she is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization, as many editors now are in their newsrooms.

2. Identify the entrepreneurs in your midst. Here’s my favorite definition: “A risk-taker who has the skills and initiative to establish a business.” Look for the early adopter who is passionate about ideas, willing to buck conventional wisdom - perhaps even annoyingly so -  and has the commitment and discipline to see an idea through.

3. Dedicate time. Give the newsroom entrepreneur with a promising idea time to work on it. Schedule regular but not overly frequent check-ins (weekly). Be clear about timelines and expectations. As long as there’s sufficient progress and the premise is holding up, think of the effort as you would a potential Pulitzer-level investigation. No dawdling. But give it time to pay off.

4. Allow room for failure. Of course, not every idea will pay off. Most won’t. Recognize that you are investing in a learning curve as much as in a specific idea. The better and faster your inner entrepreneur can fail, the better and faster she will create the next big thing. So when something doesn’t work out, ask the entrepreneur what she learned rather than what went wrong.

5. Learn how to foster innovation in your organization. Create an atmosphere in which people support entrepreneurship and want to be part of it. Here’s a great list of tips to get you started.

I’m sure this list is incomplete. How can news executives foster entrepreneurs in their organizations? Please share your ideas in the comments.

December 16, 2008

Tampa’s audience editors

Teaching vs. telling: Tribune reorganization uses key questions to guide new jobs

When Janet Coats, the executive editor of The Tampa Tribune, announced plans to appoint “audience editors,” I was intrigued by the role as a potential way to put users and readers at the front end of the news process - where they belong. In essence, the audience editors are newsroom floor managers with a key improvement: They keep pace with platforms and how people use them, knowledge that informs communication with the staff and decisions about what the newsroom covers and how it covers it.

When Coats first described the audience editor plan last summer, I wrote that I especially liked the promising idea of formalizing an audience focus and the fact that the audience editors had authority to shift resources to back up that focus. (Note: While Tampa is aggressively merging separate print, broadcast and online newsrooms, Tribune officials have dismissed a recent rumor that the print newspaper was going to cease publication.)

As with all organizational departures, I wondered how Coats and other senior editors would determine how the jobs would work in a newsroom that produces content for broadcast, online and print and is working to join together separate newsrooms that used to produce for a single platform. As much as the jobs may hold interest for other newsrooms, I think the process of defining the jobs will be useful in thinking about how to implement newsroom change.

As the audience editors took up their jobs in November, Coats explained in an interview that the Tribune’s six editors—two from broadcast background, two from online, and two from print—had worked together to define the jobs. Instead of issuing detailed instructions, Coats handed the editors Tampa’s six goals for their new role, each with a series of questions to help them frame their discussions. Here is the full list of the audience editor goals and questions.

Examples of the goals and questions Tampa considered:

(GOAL:) Audience advocacy. The AEs (Audience Editors) lead the newsroom in thinking about how best to serve the audience. The AEs have a deep knowledge of our audience metrics and research across all platforms, and they use that knowledge to guide them in setting priorities for story coverage. They educate and inform the rest of the newsroom about what works for the audience, and they track which stories are moving audience within the news cycle.

(QUESTIONS:) How will you educate yourselves about audience metrics? What tracking/reporting systems will you put in place to educate and guide the newsroom about audience on all platforms?


(GOAL:) Promoting interactivity. The AEs understand that the core of the news mission is to create content readers can interact with. The AEs identify stories with high potential for interaction, be it through user comments, databases, the potential for user-generated content or by appealing to highly motivated niche audiences. The AEs work with the content circles and the finishing group to apply the best interactive strategies to the stories they have identified as having high audience interest.

(QUESTIONS:) What systems will you use to identify stories with high potential for audience interaction? How will you recognize stories that are generating interaction and shift resources/focus? What methods will you use to build on successful instances of interaction, to create models that can be replicated?

Guided by questions like these, the new audience editors met over a period of a couple of weeks before settling into their jobs right after the November election.  Coats said changes already are apparent: “They’re teaching each other a lot. They’re incredible model for newsroom, for asking about what you don’t know and teaching your neighbor,” Coats said. “They’ve already done a lot to change sense of urgency. The room is more energized earlier in the day…. and we’re starting see a difference in the way reporters plan their work, a more deliberate, thoughtful approach because they know they’ve got to post first thing in the morning.”

This process illustrates the difference between teaching and telling. Most newsroom leaders are well schooled in the process of telling. Whether its directing troops on a breaking story or mediating newsroom turf wars, senior editors become well schooled in giving orders that quickly remove an obstacle. Sort of like snipping apart a tangle, rather than slowly teasing out the knots.

The lessons here are many for newsroom leaders who want to change newsroom culture and attitudes. Tampa offers a process that may work for other change intiatives in other newsrooms. The key is to build a mission and launch a process that allows key staff members—and eventually the rest of the newsroom—some space to learn and develop a game plan they own.

Has a question process worked for you in making newsroom change? Could it help you going foward? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

December 08, 2008

Our new leadership report is out today!

KDMC offers a collection of tips, tools and takeaways from seminar experts for newsroom leaders in the digital age

The Leadership Conference is a highlight of Knight Digital Media Center’s annual training calendar. Newsroom leaders come to the center to hear from experts in digital media, innovation and newsroom change. They return to their newsrooms with strategies and ideas for moving online.

Today, KDMC is pleased to release a report compiled from the July 2008 Leadership Conference and an earlier leadership gathering in 2007. The report is organized as a series of lists and bullet points—tools, takeaways, quotes and action steps, for example—designed to spark new thinking among newsroom leaders and link them to resources that will help them develop their ideas.

I hope you’ll take a look at the KDMC Leadership Report. Here’s a sampling:

From Takeaways:

Stacy Lynch, a consultant and project manager for the Media Management Center, warns traditional news organizations against “the sucking sound of print” as they transition to online while attempting to maintain the newspaper.

“Print will take over every ounce of energy you have,” Lynch said.  The brutal truth is there’s nothing in print that has no value. Everything has a little bit a value. Every cut hurts. You just have to figure out what hurts less.”

From Tools:

Key performance indicators provide more meaningful information on site traffic than simple counts of visits or visitors. Dana Chinn, a faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, details KPIs and their uses:

Often, that KPI is not a simple number such as time on site or unique monthly visitors. Instead, the most meaningful information may be from a ratio or comparison of two different numbers.

From Culture changers:

Change will only come from the bottom up. Command-and-control hierarchical systems of management have worked well for getting the daily paper out on time, but executive pronouncements do little to build long term change. The old structure burdens top editors with making too many small decisions instead of working on long term strategy. Perhaps more significantly, it discourages initiative - and possible innovation - from the ranks.

Also see Quotes, Reading, Action Steps

We envision a report that can grow and evolve as the challenges of newsroom leadership change. Please add your ideas in the comments.

September 05, 2008

Weekend reading

Links: SEO, management, hurricane video,
and a fresh take on new roles in the newsroom

—Knight Citizen News Network has a module on search engine optimization.

- Poynter’s Jill Geisler offers “Five Myths About Managers.”

- Stan Tiner in Biloxi, Miss., (via Howard Weaver) describes his newsroom’s foray into video for Gustav.

- Recent journalism graduate Nick Rosinia offers tips for job-seeking graduates (via Mindy McAdams). Share this with your copy editors.


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

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

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John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


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