News Leadership 3.0

January 13, 2009

Turning rivalries into partnerships

Ideas for ‘09: Collaborate with the former “competition” so that fewer journalists cover the routine and more journalists develop unique and significant enterprise stories

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds says 2009 will be a time of further pooling of news coverage by major news organizations. I agree. We’ll see more former competitors working together. So here’s idea #3 for the New Year: Consolidate and collaborate to enable journalists to increase news enterprise rather than simply producing more routine copy or cutting staffs - and the journalism they produce—ever closer to the bone.
The duplication of effort across larger newspapers covering the same turf—particularly in government and politics - has been enormous. Sure, it’s important to have more than one watchdog on duty at the statehouse. But too often, the watchdogs became the herd, covering the same hearings, writing up the same turn of screw procedural votes, and capturing the same political skirmishes that never quite enlighten real motivations or inform about policy.
Smart statehouse editors learn to balance reporter time devoted to routine stories with time devoted to investigative work and other enterprise. In many cases, the contributions of the Associated Press have helped carry the routine load. But as staff numbers have declined and demand for breaking news for online have increased, many editors have found themselves wondering where their enterprise - significant, in depth stories that only their organization has discovered or been willing to take on - will come from.
That’s the idea behind The Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times joining forces in Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee, in December, according to Anders Gyllenhaal, editor of The Miami Herald.
We don’t want to double the number of stories. That’s not the goal,” Gyllenhaal told me in an interview. “This helps us focus on 100 percent more enterprise.”
This merger also calls for adding a staff position in Tallahassee. Miami had two reporters there; St. Petersburg three. Gyllenhaal said Miami will add a position - clerk and database expert - to bring the total to six.
He said the staffs have divided the beats and some have ownership for local issues such as the delegation of each organization’s readership. But he anticipates about 75 percent of the coverage will focus on state issues and the more experienced reporters will focus on enterprise.
“There’s never been a time when either paper has had a six-member staff in Tallahassee,” he said.
He said the keys to pursuing the partnership was that the two organizations had similar philosophies about coverage and that their core readerships are separate.
I asked Gyllenhaal if he anticipated further sharing on coverage. “Not necessarily. These ideas sound great. A lot of work is required. We have to be careful the work isn’t greater than the returns. This is a discrete and logical move. It may not have a second act.”
News organizations in Ohio, North Carolina, and Maryland are among those sharing content.  Here’s an Associated Press roundup, “Former newspaper rivals cooperate as jobs are cut” (link via
There are lots of opportunities here. The leadership challenge is to make sure the collaboration enriches the news product - be it the print newspaper or the Web site - with more than the sum of its parts.
What ideas for collaboration is your news organization considering? What’s already working for you? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Idea #1: Newsrooms must “wind down” on print while still publishing a newspaper
Idea #2: Expand your site as a network connecting people and information

December 18, 2008

What does ‘online first’ mean in your newsroom?

Chris O’Brien: Jobs and practices that reflect a truly online newsroom

Chris O’Brien is business columnist for the San Jose Mercury-News and is wrapping up The Next Newsroom Project. While working on that project, Chris frequently offered insightful comments about news organizations and how their practices and attitudes must change if they want to thrive online. So I’ve asked Chris to write an occasional guest post for this blog and I’m please to offer the first one today. Here’s Chris:

Thanks to Michele for inviting me to join the discussion here. I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned, and continue to learn, at The Next Newsroom Project will be valuable to this community.
In getting started here, I wanted to pick up on a thread that Michele has been talking about lately involving the relationship between print and online in the newsrooms. I couldn’t agree more with her sentiment that it’s time to “shove the print newspaper off center stage.” While I think print will have a long future, it needs to be one of many platforms, rather than the primary one. Digital is the future, and it’s well past time for newsrooms to be thinking online first.
But here’s the next question: What does being an online first newsroom actually mean? It seems that everyone now claims their newsroom is online first. In reality, for most newsrooms that means they post their content online first. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. The newsroom, the conversations, the planning, the jobs, and the culture are all still organized around a legacy designed to create the print edition of the paper.
Being online first requires far more change. If you’re wondering whether your newsroom is online first, ask yourself how you measure up against the following criteria:
Planning and Workflow: Are the morning budget meetings and planning decisions still being driven by the need to create centerpieces and fill this section or that section? Are your critiques still driven by hanging the morning paper on the wall and discussing story placement? If these are the central conversations that are driving newsroom planning, then you’re not online first.
Instead, the discussions about content creation should start with the subject and then explore whether to tell that with text, audio, video, or some data product. The critiques should be a continual process throughout the day of evaluating traffic, comments, and updates. There should be a team dedicated to taking all this content and turning it into a print version, but they shouldn’t be driving the process.

If someone asks when deadlines are, do you still say 5 p.m.? Time to turn that on its head. For most folks, their Web traffic peaks around 9 a.m. or so, when their community wanders into work, powers on their computers, and browse the news before getting on with their day. What they find on your Web site has to be more than the articles your staff filed the previous afternoon. To change that, there needs to be a big push early in the morning to get more folks in creating fresh stuff and then updating throughout the day. According this post from Shannon Bowen, an online journalist at the Wilmington Star in North Carolina, the newsroom there has adopted the mentality of an afternoon paper, requiring the bulk of the staff to be in early and file in the morning by 11 a.m. It’s a good start. But it needs to be even earlier to hit that traffic peak, which means getting more folks in even earlier.
Jobs: Are the type of jobs in the newsroom much different than they were 10 years ago? If you’re an online first newsroom, they should be. To optimize the online experience, it takes a whole different set of jobs. Get a community manager to moderate comments, solicit the best contributions from community members, and generate a lot of conversation. Get a multimedia editor who can really build the audio and video contributions from the whole staff. Get a couple of programmer journalists in the newsroom to build everything from news widgets to Flash presentations to data-rich products like this Campaign Tracker that The Washington Post created for the recent election season. These types of information products are great journalism and they fit the way people like to consume information online by allowing them to click around and discover things.
And remember that it’s not about getting folks to come to your Web site. You have to get your content out into other people’s networks. Get a network manager whose role is to promote content using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, building relationships with bloggers, and in general thinking past the Web site and finding ways to get content into streams where the potential audience resides.
Linking: Are journalists able to create links in the stories they file? Does your content management system even allow reporters to create links? If not, it’s time to get a new content management system. And looking at this from the other end, can the audience link to your content? Are your archives free? This seems to be a harder change for many newsrooms, which in some cases have contracts with third parties to operate paid archives. Even worse, many news sites intentionally break their links every few days in order to drive folks to these paid archives. Which means that essentially they’re not letting other people link to their content. 
I’ll end with this thought: In truth, we all should be thinking about moving toward multiplatform newsrooms: print, radio, online, mobile. Wherever your community is, you need to be there. And be prepared to embrace new platforms that are bound to emerge over time.
But first things first. Let’s get the transition to online right, and then go from there. These are my criteria. What are your criteria for an online newsroom? And are there any newsrooms out there that folks believe have really, truly become online first?

December 12, 2008

Atlanta: A new vision for the Sunday newspaper

The Journal-Constitution finds readers want lots of news - in print—on Sunday

With feedback from thousands of readers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes many people who get their news online during the week still want to hold a newspaper in their hands on Sunday. That’s the premise behind a Sunday remake that will launch early next year.

I’ve been writing about the need in many newsrooms to shove the print newspaper off center stage in order to intensify a transition to digital. But I don’t think that means the newspaper goes away entirely, at least just yet. Atlanta (and others such as the Christian Science Monitor) are betting that print may have a life journalistically-engaging and revenue-producing life on the weekend.

In Atlanta, Journal-Constitution Editor Julia D.Wallace sees an opportunity to add readers to a core already devoted to the Sunday print newspaper. That core, Wallace says, is made up of people who simply like print newspapers and local news and probably will pay for the daily newspaper for some time. Wallace believes AJC can create a Sunday newspaper that will draw members of a somewhat younger group—“people who read us only online during the week and will come to us on Sunday because they appreciate that experience” of print news and advertising.

The experience promises to be different than a typical Sunday newspaper as well
.  A key finding of the research—and a surprising one—said Wallace, is that readers in Atlanta want a newsier Sunday newspaper than newsroom planners might have envisioned on their own. In contrast to a magazine-like feel many Sunday newspapers aim for, the new Sunday AJC will focus on news, hard enterprise and high story counts.

AJC also has changed it’s circulation pricing—allowing Sunday-only subscriptions for the first time at the same time the daily single-copy prices has increased to 75 cents. Elements of the new Sunday newspaper already are being introduced and the full redesign is expected to take hold when AJC starts operating new presses early next year.

To create content for the new Sunday newspaper, the AJC newsroom has formed a team of 30 journalists who will focus entirely on Sunday. They will produce investigations, Sunday cover stories and standing features such as the week in review feature. That’s a big commitment—nearly 10 percent of a staff of 325 (down from 500 a few years ago). Wallace says the staffing assures strong enterprise for every section cover on Sunday. Beat reporters also will contribute. (I think a separate Sunday-focused staff should help avoid situations in which beat reporters coming off a hard breaking news week are forced to contrive a long Sunday story that don’t plow much new ground.)

Wallace doesn’t foresee print exclusives for Sunday enterprise stories but may try publishing a few simultaneously. For now, she said, the newsroom is discussing a “Five Easy Pieces” idea that allows editors to hold from the Web until Saturday up to five pieces developed primarily for the Sunday print newspaper.

AJC’s experience may offer lessons for other newspapers down the road. The news organization has conducted exhaustive research and it is putting resources behind the effort to do it right. That promises an experiment both well conceived and well executed, a true demonstration of the potential value of the idea. Also, establishing the role and scope of a Sunday or weekend newspaper may help Atlanta figure out what print products it does—or does not—need to create during the week.

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.

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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).

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